College Students and Sleep Deprivation

On the surface, college campuses might seem to be about learning and studying and getting degrees. But there’s so much else going on that college students can get involved with—and many students are trying to do it all.

Even college students, however, are limited to 24 hours in each day. And if they need more time than that, guess what loses out? That’s right. It’s sleep. In fact, on college campuses it has become not only acceptable, but normal, to live in a burnout culture where students just don’t get enough sleep.

Sometimes living without sleep is even celebrated and encouraged on campus. Many college campuses now even have libraries or study centers that are open 24 hours each day—with suitable coffee shops attached. As many as 70% of college students report that they get an insufficient amount of sleep on a regular basis.

Effects of Sleep Deprivation on College Students

The sleep-deprivation culture that is becoming rampant on college campuses is a dangerous game to play. More than simply making students tired or fatigued, lack of adequate sleep can be the cause of a myriad of physical, mental, and emotional consequences in the lives of college students.

So, what are the effect of sleep deprivation on college students?

Illness. Human immune systems reboot while we are sleeping. That means that when you don’t sleep well or enough, you’re much more likely to contract viral or bacterial illnesses—which happen to run rampant on college campuses.

Compromised Learning and Memory. Staying up all night to cram for an exam can actually be counterproductive. Not only will you feel groggy, but you are likely to forget quite a lot of the information you were trying to cram into your brain. It’s better to study all throughout the semester and then get a good night of sleep prior to the exam. Otherwise your cognitive processes are likely to be dumbed down and useless during the exam.

Poor Physical Health. It is well known that chronic lack of sleep can put your long-term physical health at risk. Beyond simply contracting a temporary illness, sleep deprivation can lead to problems with high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, heart disease, stroke and even diabetes. In addition, sleep deprivation can be easily linked to a greater risk of accidents, whether just tripping and falling, getting in a car accident, or succumbing to injury during sports activities or physical education classes.

Excess Weight. Many people know about (and have experienced) the 10 or 15 pounds of weight that is gained during the freshman year of college. Although this is presumed to be related to eating junk food or cafeteria grub, a strong connection can also be made between sleep deprivation and weight gain. When you don’t sleep, your metabolism suffers, you make poor eating choices (sugar-packed energy drink, anyone?), and you’re less likely to have the energy to exercise. All of this can easily add up to gaining quite a few pounds in a short amount of time.

Causes of Sleep Deprivation for College Students

Some college students are not getting enough sleep because, well, they just don’t go to bed when they should. Other students, however, may be trying to go to sleep at a reasonable time each night but are unable to get a good night’s sleep due to insomnia, stress, or other life situations.

Stress. The demand of the classroom, sports, extracurricular activities, clubs, and social lives (not to mention jobs for those who are working their way through school), can create a significant amount of stress and anxiety. Students who worry that their grades aren’t high enough to keep their scholarships or they aren’t sure how they’ll pay for the next semester may have trouble sleeping due to stress and anxiety.

Living Environment. Sharing dorm accommodations, especially if you live with a difficult roommate, can be a serious contributor to lack of sleep. Loud music playing in the hallway, parties all night long at the fraternity, or simply the adjustment of living in a close knit community can be disruptive to sleep. Some college campuses allow people to opt for a quieter dorm option or pay extra for a single room without a roommate—which may be worth it in the long run!

Electronics. Now, more than ever, electronics are a part of the lives of college students. What used to be called “hitting the books” is now likely to be more likely hitting a computer, tablet, or some other electronic device. Staring a blue-lighted screens for hours on end each day (especially late into the night) can have serious detrimental effect on a person’s ability to sleep. Doing online research, reading downloaded textbooks, and even talking to family and friends through video calls can all add up to mental stimulation that can keep college students from sleeping at night. Blue-light blocking glasses or an orange-light setting on your tablet or computer may help with this.

Newfound Freedom. Put a pile of eighteen-year-olds together who are on their own for the first time and what do you get? Chaos, probably. The newly acquired ability to make their own decisions without mom and dad around may lead students (freshmen especially) to go a little bit wild and forget that their purpose is to get an education.

Ignorance of the Need for Sleep. College students, many of whom are still teenagers and actually need more sleep than an average adult, may be unaware of their physical need for more sleep. Many students take on a bit of a superhero mentality, thinking they can accomplish anything and everything they want to do—at the expense of getting enough sleep. They often either don’t know (or don’t really care) that their health may be suffering from severe sleep deprivation.


Many college students think of sleep as a sort of luxury—but it’s not! It’s a necessity that changes the way everything in your life functions. Your mental, physical, and emotional health (not to mention your success in your college classes!) will all be affected by getting the quality and quality of sleep that you need each and every night.

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