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  • Writer's pictureLizzie Shanahan

College students sleeping habits explained

Updated: Apr 25

By Lizzie Shanahan April 23, 2024



College students are some of the busiest people. 


Most are managing a course load with strenuous tasks like writing essays, taking exams, reading multiple chapters a day, participating in sports or clubs. Not to mention also working part-time jobs.


College students are doing all of this while also trying to keep up with social events and figuring out how to be a young adult.


With this busy schedule, many students find themselves cutting back on sleep in order to handle it all. 


Cayden King, a Senior in College, gets up early most weekdays for her classes at the College of Charleston. 


And after a full day of school, a part-time job, and spending time at the gym, she's exhausted. 


Although she is tired, she is still a college student who wants to spend time with her friends or scroll on her phone, which both contribute to poor sleeping habits. 


“My phone and computer are definitely distractions," she says, "and I am scrolling for hours before bed until I realize that I'm awake way past the time I should be.”


Technology is a big contributor to poor sleeping habits in college students. Many students are on phones or computers much of the day - and then usually longer than necessary late at night. 


Megan Malloy, a college senior, has a part-time internship, a part-time job, and manages a five-class course load. 


Malloy said technology definitely gets in the way of good sleeping habits, which makes it even more difficult to manage her busy schedule.


“My phone is a distraction for sure,” she said. “I end up getting in bed at a reasonable and ideal time, but then I go on my phone or watch a show for a while, and by that point I'm going to sleep much later than I'd like.” 


Findley O’Brien, a senior at the College of Charleston, confessed that after a long busy day doing work, technology helps her feel as if she has time to herself.


“I think it's scrolling on my phone that keeps me awake,” she said. “It's hard to stop because after a long day, it's nice to feel like I have my own downtime.” 


Rachael McNamara, director of the Office of Student Wellness & Well-being at the College of Charleston, is around college students every day, and she explained why technology can be an issue for college students' sleeping habits. 


“Light interferes with our circadian rhythms, stimulation interferes with the brain’s production of sleep hormones, and technology can cause a distraction which may result in people not beginning tasks until much later than they intended,” McNamara said.


Technology can cause problems down the road, McNamara explains, because the light and stimulation disrupt normal sleep patterns.


However, she has some advice. 


“Creating a bedtime routine which excludes electronic devices will help the body adjust to sleeping more quickly,” she said.


According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average college student and young adult is supposed to get between Seven and Nine uninterrupted hours of sleep each night. 


Any less and there can be serious negative effects to students’ health. 


Recent findings have shown that college students who don't get enough sleep are more prone to diseases and disorders, such as heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression. 


Taylor and Francis Group studies sleep traits in college students and found a significant correlation between poor sleep quality, perceived stress levels, and anxiety and depression symptoms. 


Talking to several current College of Charleston students it’s clear they aren’t getting the recommended hours.


And anxiety was a big factor.


O’Brien said she gets anxious when she is super busy.


“I have trouble sleeping sometimes due to anxious thoughts,” O’Brien said. “I can spiral at night if I am stressed about something I have to do that day or week which causes me to have a hard time falling asleep.”


Emma Zabranksy, another CofC student, agreed that being anxious can disrupt her normal sleep patterns.


“If I have a lot of school work, or I am stressed, I can become anxious which keeps me up at night,” said the senior who is also student teaching this semester.


Megan Zabransky, a registered nurse, said poor sleeping habits can also create feelings of anxiousness, causing a vicious cycle.


“Not getting enough sleep makes people unable to focus well or think clearly, which can also cause people some anxiety," she said. "It is hard to work optimally when you feel like you are in a fog of exhaustion.” 


According to new research from Medical News Today, a web-based outlet for medical information and news, for the general public as well as physicians, stress and anxiety is a big part of why college students aren't getting enough sleep:


“Stress about school and life keeps 68 percent of students awake at night - 20 percent of them at least once a week.” 


Medical News Today research shows students avoid going to sleep during stressful times.


“Students forgo sleep during periods of stress, not realizing that they are sabotaging their physical and mental health."


The medical outlet revealed shocking data that breaks down how frequently students don't prioritize their sleep when they are stressed. 


“On weeknights, 20 percent of students stay up all night at least once a month and 35 percent stay up until 3 a.m. at least once a week. Twelve percent of poor sleepers miss class three or more times a month or fall asleep in class.”


McNamara confirmed that anxiety and stress can certainly play a part in students' sleeping habits. 


“General Anxiety, the disorder, has sleep difficulty as one of the possible symptoms of the disorder,” she said.

 

“However, most students and our culture tend to talk about anxiety and stress interchangeably. Stress also impacts the ability to fall asleep, the quality of sleep and how long someone stays asleep.” 


While anxiety can play a big part in students struggling with their sleep, so can the week-to-weekend balance.


McNamara points out that trying to keep the same schedule on weekdays and weekends would be a big help to improving sleep habits.


“It is best for people of all ages to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up the same time each morning, including weekends,” she said. “This is largely because the body starts getting ready for sleep (hormone and physiological changes) based on the schedule. So it will be easier to fall asleep and stay asleep if you follow a schedule.”


But college kids aren’t great at keeping the same sleep schedule. 


“College students are up late for a number of reasons, including socializing with friends on the weekends or cramming for exams and projects during the week,” said Megan Zabransky.


Emma Zabransky admitted her sleep schedule is completely different on weekdays compared to weekends.


“I tend to stay up much later on the weekends and sleep in much later,” she said, adding that her weekdays are a lot earlier this semester than usual because of student teaching. “I have to be up by 5:30 a.m., which is much different from when I am waking up on the weekends. It throws off my sleep body clock.”


Megan Malloy deals with the same issue between weekdays and weekends.


“Week nights are pretty consistent, I am in bed around 10:30, asleep at 11:30,” she said. “However, on weekends, I feel like I rarely go to bed before midnight.” 


Malloy said even if she isn’t going out, she tends to work later on weekends, which pushes her sleep time later. 


“Then if we do go out, that could mean staying up even later,” she said. “I assume my body clock is constantly confused.”


O’Brien guesses that she gets around half the amount of sleep on weekdays than she does on weekends.


 “I sleep in a lot later on the weekends so I end up getting around 10-12 hours of sleep each night on the weekends, compared to getting five to seven hours on weekdays. My body probably gets very confused.”






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