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College and Sleep

Lack of sleep is a common problem for college students. The magic number of hours of sleep needed varies by age. The average college students needs about 8 hours of sleep, but 60-70% of students get fewer than this. This means that about 2/3s of college students are considered poor quality sleepers.

Why is sleep such a problem for college students? 

Many adults have trouble sleeping, but college has a few extra things making the problem even worse. Some of these include: 

  • New environment, priorities, and relationships
  • Academic demands they may not have had in high school
  • Inconsistent schedules
  • Difficulty scheduling and prioritizing between school, work, and social activities
  • Smaller living space, usually with roommates
  • Poor sleep behaviors

Student standing in library

The newly found freedom of college life leads many students to experiment with drugs and alcohol.

Reasons alcohol can worsen sleep problems:

  • You may fall asleep faster, but alcohol decreases the quality of sleep
  • Decreases rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is considered the most restorative type of sleep
  • Can increase the number of times you have to get up to the bathroom
  • Staying up late on weekends to go to parties leads to an inconsistent sleep schedule, which can cause sleep problems
The use of non-prescribed stimulants is common among college students – most commonly Adderall or Ritalin – in order to stay awake and improve school or work performance. This can lead to a cycle of taking pills between stimulants and sleeping pills.

Health effects of stimulants:

  • Highly addictive
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Irregular heart rate
  • High body temperature
  • Chronic insomnia
  • Depression
  • Seizures
  • Paranoia
  • Aggression
  • Psychosis

Medical conditions can also cause sleep problems. Examples include obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), thyroid problems, diabetes, asthma, and chronic pain. If you think there may be more to your sleep problems, please make an appointment with a provider at Student Health Service to explore possible health conditions.