Tired of Being Tired?

By Teja Karimikonda

They say that eight hours of sleep each night is the commonly accepted parameter of a good night’s sleep; however, most students would agree that this statement is more of a dream than a reality. Many students stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. finishing up assignments or studying for tests. Repeating this process night after night results in poor sleep for students. Justin Pope reports that college health officials are realizing that healthy sleep habits can alleviate some issues ailing students: anxiety, depression, physical health problems, and of course academic troubles [1].

A time-consuming activity that every individual across the globe participates in is sleep. If an individual lived 80 years, approximately 27 years will have been spent sleeping, assuming eight hours of sleep each night. This is a lot of time which prompts the question: how long can we stay awake? Randy Gardner set the commonly cited record for most time an individual voluntarily resisted sleep in 1964 when he was 17 years old for a science fair project. He did not sleep for 264 hours straight, approximately 11 days [2]!  Although the purpose of sleep and why the urge to rest is so strong at specific times—like when your TA is explaining polynomials—is still unknown, studies have shown sleep deprivation to be correlated to poorer health and decreased cognitive performance [3]. Though strong parallels are drawn between sleep deprivation and body decline, such as immune system dysfunction, sickness, and elevated blood pressure, the consensus appears to be that these negative effects do not seem permanent [2]. But this does not mean that sleep deprivation should be taken lightly.

“A time-consuming activity that every individual across the globe participates in is sleep. If an individual lived 80 years, approximately 27 years will have been spent sleeping, assuming eight hours of sleep each night.”

Both sleep quality and duration have been shown to have a direct impact on health [4].  Many studies show that sleep deprivation impairs learning and memory processes, both of which play crucial roles in an individual’s academic performance [4]. In addition to poor academic performance, sleep deprivation has also been linked with obesity. A study involving fourteen healthy individuals subjected to either four nights of healthy sleep or sleep deprivation found that those who were deprived of sleep felt hungrier and consumed twice as much fat and protein as the control group. These food cravings were explained through amplified endocannabinoid levels, endogenous lipid-based neurotransmitters, which were involved in food cravings and led to hunger pangs [5]. Is this where the freshman 15 comes from?


• Schedule enough time for sleep
• Set aside your electronics for the night
• Try to set regular routine bedtimes and rise times
• Spend some time exercising each day (though not late at night)
• Do not nap in the middle of the day
• Wind down towards bedtime
• Deal with problems

Though it is simple to cite lack of sleep as an excuse for poor academic performance and health, it is more relevant to ask why so many college students suffer from sleep deprivation. Students staying up late to study who have early morning classes are more likely to not attend their classes as they may not wake to their alarms. In this case, they may lose even more sleep catching up on what they may have missed by not attending class. This cycle creates an endless feedback loop which could potentially be rectified through better understanding of the necessity of sleep. Students can in essence, be shooting themselves in their own foot as a study showed that sleep deprived students performed poorly though they believed themselves to have higher levels of performance [4].  With introspection, students can create schedules which accommodate their schoolwork as well as any extracurricular activates in a manner that allows them to get a good night’s sleep each night.

Universities can also take measures to address the issue of sleep deprivation. University of Michigan introduced an interesting initiative to tackle this issue. They designed “napping centers” within libraries, as it is common to see many students falling asleep in the 24-hour libraries across campus [6]. As a long-term initiative, the benefits of good sleep practices and how to go about obtaining them should presented to the students. For example, housing fellows within the dorms could present this information within one of the house meetings. Universities should educate their students both on the importance of sleep and on the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation. Furthermore, students should be encouraged to speak with their professors if they find themselves experiencing sleep-deprivation for an extension or some other solution as sleep deprivation both impacts the health of the student and their academic performance as well. Though this number may


  1. Pope J. Colleges wake up to notion that better sleep means better grades. Washington Times. 2012; Available from: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/sep/3/colleges-wake-up-to-notion-that-better-sleep-means/
  2. Hadhazy A. How long can we stay awake. BBC. 2015; Available from: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150220-how-long-can-we-stay-awake
  3. Saper CB, Scammell TE, Lu J. Hypothalamic regulation of sleep and circadian rhythms. Nature. 2005 Oct 27;437(7063):1257-63.
  4. Curcio G, Ferrara M, De Gennaro L. Sleep loss, learning capacity and academic performance. Sleep medicine reviews. 2006 Oct 31;10(5):323-37.
  5. Bromwich J. Poor sleep gives you the munchies, study says. New York Times. 2016; Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/05/science/sleep-eating-craving-food.html
  6. Akhtar A. Michigan library opens nap station for students. Washington Times. 2014; Available from: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/may/12/michigan-library-opens-nap-station-for-students/
  7. Wilson S, Nutt D. Good sleep habits. Psychiatry. 2007;7(6):301-4.

This piece was featured in Volume III Issue I of JUST.

2017-12-12T23:56:27+00:00 December 14th, 2017|