Sleep deprivation is a problem often overlooked in college students, despite the fact that according to the Health Research Fund, over 70% of college students report having sleep problems. This problem is especially relevant for students at Ithaca College, as the college was found to have an overall rating of 57 out of 100 on the College Sleep Environmental Scan for sleep health in a 2018 study involving 66 colleges and universities across the United States — a rating that was among the lowest in the study.
It is important to remember that sleep is not lost time but rather time that both your body and brain need to recover from the events of the day and prepare for the next. During sleep, your body regulates your respiratory, circulatory and immune systems and organizes information that you have gathered throughout the day. As we go through our days, we create a temporary library in our short-term memory of all of the information that we have collected. While we are awake, our body uses up energy reserves, creating chemical byproducts in the process. In excess, these chemicals in our brains contribute to feeling sleep deprived. While we sleep, our brain clears waste products and begins the process of sorting important short-term memories into our long-term memory. Lack of sleep, however, can severely inhibit productivity and cause memory issues that negatively impact learning. Sleep deprivation makes it more difficult to think, react, learn and communicate with others. Additionally, inconsistencies in one’s sleep schedule can cause hormonal imbalances between the hormones that control when you feel tired or awake.
Finding an achievable balance between school, social life and sleep is notoriously difficult. Many students that report being sleep deprived understand that a lack of sleep is detrimental to their health and productivity but struggle to find a healthy balance among the three due to the stress caused by deadlines. Stress is the number one cause of short-term sleeping difficulties, and these stressors can come from school, work, and social pressures. Breaking this cycle demands both self-evaluation and careful time management.
Academic pressure can make students disregard the importance of sleep, or underestimate how much sleep they need. Many students feel most productive working at night, which can get in the way of developing healthy sleep habits; inadequate sleep causes decreased levels of productivity the next day. Health professionals recommend that young adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, which can be difficult to achieve with the stress of a heavy workload.
Procrastination affects nearly all college students. It is far easier to put off working on an assignment when the deadline is far enough into the future. Every procrastinator knows how easy it is to delay productivity to instead do something enjoyable in the moment and how stress-inducing it can be to tackle a large assignment right before its deadline. Procrastinating on work leads to procrastinating on sleep, which feeds into the cycle of inattentiveness and decreased productivity.
Combating procrastination can be extremely difficult but not impossible. An easy way to visualize assignments and deadlines is by creating a to-do list. Creating a list for your upcoming assignments can be daunting, but gradually removing items from your list prior to their deadlines relieves stress and gives you more time to socialize and sleep. Other ways of combating sleep deprivation include staying out of bed when you are not sleeping, limiting naps and avoiding stimulants, such as caffeine, in the evening. Taking some time to decompress at the end of the day can also make the transition into sleep more seamless. Try to spend 15–30 minutes away from distractions and technology to wind down before going to bed.
Implementing healthy sleep habits is difficult but doing so allows for more productive days and enables you to spend more time to focus on the things that you want to do, either by yourself or with friends. It is also important to remember that having a perfect sleep schedule every night is impossible, and working some nights to meet deadlines is inevitable, especially when your many responsibilities can be overwhelming. Remind yourself that every small victory deserves to be rewarded, which will in turn keep you motivated and further encourage you to improve your productivity.