The Importance of Sleep for College Students

As we emerge from midterm season and begin to get ready for finals, the importance of sleep is increasingly critical to understand, especially with the absence of a break this semester. Often, sleep gets pushed to the sidelines, as schoolwork, club responsibilities and spending time with friends seem to take precedence over a good night’s sleep. 

As Villanovans, we are particularly guilty of this prioritization of other commitments over time to rest. However, healthy sleep habits are essential to positively engaging in other aspects of life. If we want to be able to fully commit to our schoolwork, responsibilities and friendships, we must also fully commit to a strong mental health foundation.

According to the University of Georgia Health Center, college students should try to get around eight hours of sleep a night. However, around 70% of college students fail to meet this metric. Extensive academic research links quality and quantity of sleep to undergraduate grades. Moreover, “being tired all the time” also degrades one’s ability to engage in commitments outside of class at full capacity. 

According to a study conducted by Helen Milojevich and Angela Lukowski, poor sleep habits are linked to harmful psychological tendencies, such as “increased antisocial personality problems, anxiety problems, attention deficit/hyperactivity problems [and] depressive problems.” 

A 2010 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that many students “are suffering from depression, anxiety and A.D.H.D., all of which can be symptoms of sleep deprivation or worsened by it.”

According to a New York Times article titled “An Underappreciated Key to College Success: Sleep,” various academic studies have concluded that “sleep quantity and sleep quality equal or outrank such popular campus concerns as alcohol and drug use in predicting student grades and a student’s chances of graduating.” 

To be clear, we are all responsible for our own sleep habits. However, while colleges tend to offer various programs to address excessive drinking and drug abuse, much less attention is given to helping students understand the dangers of sleep deprivation. Colleges often unintentionally exacerbate this problem. 

For example, many university libraries around the country, including Falvey Library, are open 24 hours. This well-meaning policy unintentionally enables late-night studying (and, arguably, the poor time management skills that necessitate such nocturnal activities). In many ways, our culture even tends to view “all-nighters” as some kind of bizarre rite of passage.

Some innovative ideas have emerged that could potentially be employed at the University to encourage students to prioritize sleep. For instance, some colleges have implemented sleep courses into their curriculum, with the goal of teaching students the basic neuroscience behind the importance of sleep in all aspects of life. New York University (NYU) and Stanford University are two colleges that have implemented such programs, entitled “While You Were Sleeping” and “Sleep and Dreams,” respectively. These sleep courses have proven to effectively increase the amount of sleep enrolled students receive. A study showed that students enrolled in “While You Were Sleeping” at NYU sleep an average of 22 minutes longer per night and fall asleep nine minutes faster per night after taking the class.

Again, we are all responsible for our own sleep habits, just as we all have a responsibility to brush our teeth and shower. However, at the same time, college communities could put more thought into the importance of good sleep habits. Lack of sleep degrades student performance and therefore should be a more intentional aspect of campus public and mental health programs. During a particularly stressful time of the semester especially with the lack of Fall Break), we must all keep in mind the importance of sleep and its ability to add to, not take away from, all other aspects of our lives.