But how much sleep is enough? Is 6 hours of sleep enough time for a student in high school to perform at an optimal level? Is it enough sleep for college-age students?
Why Sleep is Important for Students
Sleep plays a vital role in helping heal minds and bodies. Sleep is the time when you rejuvenate and recover from daily activities. Adequate sleep improves the ability to learn (and retain) new information. Sleep also offers behavioral and physiological benefits.
Lack of sleep can lead to interruptions in brain functions. Behavioral, mental health, and attention disruptions are likely to contribute to reduced academic performance because the amount and quality of sleep play a critical role in consolidating and strengthening memories.
Students who consistently fail to get sufficient sleep will find they have a higher risk of developing a variety of health problems. The real tragedy is that many of these health disorders can be avoided simply by ensuring you get enough rest/sleep every night. Science reveals that inadequate amounts of sleep have been linked to the development of chronic diseases (for example, obesity, depression, Type 2 Diabetes, etc.).
The Sleep-Stress Connection Cycle
Unfortunately, sleep and stress are intertwined life variables. Left unchecked, they can develop into a vicious downward spiral – without an exit ramp. The more stress you feel, the less sleep you have. The less sleep one gets, the more stress one feels, and so on. The long-term impact of poor sleep habits and insufficient shut-eye can lead to more serious mental health disorders that include anxiety, depression, and even PTSD.
As such, students who make an effort to prioritize time for sleep will find they have better abilities to cope with life’s daily routine and even unexpected challenges.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s Patient Education Website
The AASM offers a Sleep Education website that provides helpful information regarding sleep issues, sleep disturbance treatment options, topical news, and relevant sleep studies. This informational website also provides a directory of sleep-testing facilities.
The Importance of Sleep for Students: Side-Effects of Sleep Deprivation
The concept of sleep deprivation refers to someone who does not get enough sleep. According to the AASM, about one in five adults falls into the category of not getting enough sleep.
Sleep Deprivation can be categorized as either –
- Acute Sleep Deprivation – which is characterized by staying awake for 16+ consecutive hours without napping or sleeping. To provide perspective as to the impact of sleep deprivation – the CDC notes that remaining awake for 18 hours is likely to have the same impact as someone who has a BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) of .05%. Staying awake for 24 hours is likely to have an impact like someone who has a BAC of 0.10 %. Note that to drive a car legally, one’s BAC must be below .08%.
- Chronic Sleep Deprivation – ongoing and regular lack of sleep over a significant amount of time has the potential to develop into more serious health disorders.
Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation
Excessive daytime sleepiness is the primary impact of sleep deprivation. This sleepiness caused by insufficient sleep can be so severe that sleep-deprived students can fall asleep when sitting in a classroom or workplace setting.
Sleepiness during the day can also be a potential safety hazard as it can result in drowsy driving. The AAA Foundation notes that in the U.S. there are, on average more than 325,000 motor vehicle crashes each year caused by a drowsy driver.
And for those who sleep less than five hours a night, their risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident increases further. They have five times the chance of being in or contributing to an accident compared with people who get at least seven hours of sleep each night.
Sleep deprivation symptoms include:
- Mood Issues
- No motivation
- Brain fog
- Performance Issues
- Lack of energy, concentration, and attention
- Reduction in reaction time and coordination
- Poor decisions and restlessness
- Forgetfulness and increased mistakes
- Easily distracted and fatigued
- An inability to respond with flexibility
- Health Issues
- High blood pressure
- Increase in stress hormones
- Prone to infections (i.e., reduced immunity) due to a reduced immune response
- Heart Attack
Daytime Sleepiness & College Students
An NIH report reveals remarkable statistics regarding the prevalence of daytime sleepiness in the college student population. The report notes –
- 70+% of college students get < 8 hours of sleep a day.
- 60% of college students say they are sleepy or tired a minimum of three days per week.
- 80+% of college students report that when they do not get enough sleep, this negatively impacts their academic performance.
In fact, only stress beats out inadequate amounts of sleep as the primary cause of reduced academic performance.
Quality of Sleep Is Important Too
Studies confirm that students of all ages need enough sleep to perform at an optimal level. However, the quality of one’s sleep is similarly essential, and sleep disturbances look different for each person. For example, someone may wake up repeatedly all night (every night), while someone may find their snoring disrupts normal sleep patterns required for restorative sleep.
How Common is Sleep Deprivation in College Students?
Most students get fewer hours of sleep than recommended by sleep experts. According to a study by the Sleep Foundation, 70% to 96% of college students get < 8 hours of sleep during the week. More than half of the respondents noted they slept < 7 hours per night.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly ¾ of high school students only get 7 to 7 1/2 hours of sleep per night. And while most students think they can “catch up” on sleep – by sleeping extra hours on weekends, this pattern of sleep is not a practical solution to sleep deprivation problems or symptoms. This misguided thinking, which is referred to as binge sleeping, has the potential to create unhealthy sleep habits that later develop into more serious health concerns. [Binge sleeping is discussed in detail later in the narrative.]
Causes of Sleep Problems
As one would expect, there are a variety of causes that contribute to sleep issues.
Unfortunately, many of the aspects of college life (i.e., variable schedules, late-night socializing, etc.) tend to negatively impact one’s sleep habits. Sleep hygiene is the phrase used to define one’s behavioral choices and bedroom environment). It refers to the routine someone establishes to help promote consistent and uninterrupted restorative sleep.
Sleep hygiene need not be complicated. It begins with optimizing one’s sleep schedule. For most, this includes proactively avoiding aspects of modern daily life that may contribute to poor sleep habits or routines. The most common causes of sleep problems among students at the college level include the following –
While alcohol will often help someone drift off to sleep faster than normal, the reality is that from a chemical perspective, metabolized alcohol interrupts (or fragments) one’s sleep structure. In other words, alcohol disrupts the four natural sleep stages that define a healthy sleep cycle.
Caffeine, Nicotine, Energy Drinks & Other Stimulants
Caffeine is among the most popular and widely used stimulants, with 90% of adults in the United States consuming some form of caffeinated beverage on a daily basis. And while caffeine can boost energy and performance, it can last for seven or more hours.
Caffeine is found in all kinds of drinks – from coffee, certain types of tea, and soda, as well as energy drinks. In fact, the NIH notes that consuming energy drinks has a direct correlation with increased use of alcohol and other types of drugs.
Technology & Blue Lights
Blue light refers to light emitted within the blue wavelength range. These types of wavelengths are most beneficial when you are exposed to them during daylight hours, as blue light tends to increase reaction time, attention, and even mood.
The problem is that with the explosion of a digitally-based (and energy-conscious) world, blue light is everywhere and often part of one’s nighttime routine. Essentially, technology developed to increase productivity and connectivity is also quite effective at throwing one’s biological sleep clock off the rails. Blue light suppresses your production of the sleep hormone melatonin, which can then throw your circadian rhythm out of sync.
The solution is more straightforward than one thinks – create a sleep space that minimizes the digital world.
- Consider using red lights for night lights, as these wavelengths are far less likely to disrupt circadian rhythms.
Studies have found that cell phones used in a bedroom can potentially:
- Increase daytime sleepiness
- Reduce one’s sleep quality
- Increase restless sleep
- Increase the difficulty in falling and staying asleep, to name a few.
And, as one would expect, playing video games prior to bed will make it more challenging to drift off to sleep due to the blue light emission and overstimulation most games provide.
The reality is that not all sleep hindrances are self-inflicted. The following sleep disorders may contribute to sleep problems and deprivation:
- Insomnia – a persistent problem in either falling asleep or staying asleep.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea – a common disorder that causes you to stop and start breathing.
- Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders – when one’s body clock is out of sync with one’s environment.
- Hypersomnia – excessive sleepiness.
- Restless Legs Syndrome – a hard-to-resist urge to move one’s legs – mainly occurs at night.
Pulling an All-Nighter
While an all-nighter is not an official cause of sleep deprivation, it is worth mentioning because a study marathon, which is likely to happen to a busy student, can disrupt sleep patterns in negative ways. Studying all night is the wrong plan if your goal is to improve your ability to learn and perform.
The reason pulling an all-nighter is a bad idea is that if you don’t get sufficient sleep, your mind and body are not recharged, making it more challenging to stay focused and access the facts you crammed into your brain when studying all night.
What is Binge-Sleeping?
Binge sleeping is defined as a phenomenon in which someone has irregular sleep cycles. Binge sleeping has become increasingly common because many people struggle to manage their time and responsibilities throughout the week. Most are exhausted from family, work, and health requirements that, by the weekend, they are ready to make up for the missed sleep by staying in bed till noon.
Why Doesn’t Binge-Sleeping Work
Unfortunately, binge sleeping develops into a crash-and-burn type of lifestyle, one that disrupts the normal restorative REM sleep cycles. Poor REM cycles lead to extensive and overwhelming exhaustion. The key to health and restorative sleep is consistency because interrupted REM sleep can reduce your energy and even develop into other binging tendencies.
And remember that while getting enough sleep is important, the quality of the sleep one receives is equally essential. If you, as a student, experience any of the following symptoms or regular occurrences, it is likely the quality of your sleep could use some improvement –
- Feeling sleepy and fatigued even after getting an adequate number of sleep hours
- Waking up during the night repeatedly
- Suffering from the symptoms caused by a sleep disorder (snoring, for example)
Is 6 Hours of Sleep Enough for a Student?
Sleep requirements vary with age. Babies require the most sleep, and older individuals need the least.
According to the CDC, the following are recommended sleep requirements for students. Note that six hours of sleep is NOT sufficient for a student of any age –
- It is recommended that students who are aged 6-12 get 9-12 hours for each day/24-hour period.
- It is recommended that students who are aged 13-18 get 8-10 hours for each day/24-hour period.
- It is recommended that students 18 years or old get 7+ hours for each day/24-hour period.
8 Better Sleep Tips for College Students
The secret to getting an ideal night’s sleep – and setting yourself up to perform at your best, is establishing healthy sleep habits.
Admittedly, certain college dorms or living arrangements may cause sleep disturbances that reach far beyond one’s control. This may include a noisy roommate, a lumpy mattress, or an inability to set the temperature of the sleeping environment.
However, you can improve your restorative sleep by proactively choosing to promote proper sleep hygiene and remembering to make sleep a priority and not a luxury.
Consider these proven strategies –
- Re-evaluate your schedule to see how you can better manage your time to create 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Take advantage of the many calendar apps available to help prioritize events and time.
- Prioritize sleep time and find a way (or a person) to hold yourself accountable.
- Establish a wind-down routine that works for you.
- Limit caffeine late in the day.
- Avoid electronic screens or blue light emissions for at least sixty minutes before going to bed. This would include a laptop, phone, etc.
- Eat well-balanced and nutritious food choices.
- Try to exercise every day but avoid strenuous exercise for several hours before going to bed. A study by the Sleep Foundation, of more than 2,600 men & women, ages 18-85, revealed that those who had done at least 150 minutes of activity (defined as moderate to vigorous movement) each week were shown to have a 65% improvement in their sleep quality.
- Gradually set up an earlier wake-up time if you are trying to shift your sleep hours.
- Establish a reasonable sleep schedule.
- Structure your day to stay ahead of coursework, exams, and due dates.
- Try not to use your bed for activities (like reading or eating) other than sleeping.
- Getting enough sleep may mean having to leave a party earlier than you would prefer.
- Speak with a school counselor or academic coach who can help you learn ways to better manage your time and schedule to ensure you can prioritize your sleep.
The interesting thing about getting enough sleep is that the feeling of being alert and well-rested first thing in the morning offers the positive reinforcement you need to continue to make healthier choices. Try it; you have everything to gain.