Some psychologists say students who deprive themselves of sleep – whether because of jobs, social habits, approaching midterms or irregular class schedules – may be putting themselves at risk for depression and other health problems.
“I definitely don’t get enough sleep,” said LSA freshman Robert Rice, who said he sleeps between five and eight hours a night.
Rice has balanced work and school since he was 15, so he said he is used to the daily grind. Rice attributed his lack of sleep to the commute from his off-campus house to class and to his job as a manager at BankOne. Like many students, he enjoyed the honeymoon of welcome week only to settle into the hustle and bustle of campus life.
Rice is not alone, psychology Prof. Teresa Lee said.
“Virtually all kids are coping with some sleep deprivation,” Lee said. There is plenty of data to support the claim that college students are disproportionately affected by sleep deprivation, Lee added.
“Long-term sleep deprivation can lead to depression,” she said. The New York Times recently reported a correlation between higher rates of depression among college students and declining average sleep time.
Lee recommended that students get eight hours of sleep, and at least six continuous hours. Contrary to popular belief, missed sleep can be made up, she said. This means students can compensate for reduced sleep with midday naps.
Lack of sleep causes other ailments, including gastrointestinal problems, Lee said.
Sleep deprivation is especially dangerous for students who drink, Lee said. “Sleep deprivation magnifies the effects of alcohol,” she said. Being sleep deprived is equivalent to having consumed one to two drinks, she added. Like alcohol, sleep debt – defined as anything less than eight hours – decreases reaction time.
“I cannot concentrate, cannot drive properly, feel restless and not as energetic,” said Medical School student Shikha Arora.
Sleep deprivation perpetuates a vicious cycle that causes stress, which in turn hinders restful sleep, Lee said.
“Sleep deprivation is a huge problem,” Lee said. She attributed disasters such as the partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor on Pennsylvania’s Three-Mile Island to sleep deprivation. “It’s estimated that 50 percent of all car accidents are due to sleep deprivation,” Lee added.
Paradoxically, short-term lack of sleep appears to alleviate clinical depression, because oversleeping can also be a sign of depression, Lee said.
A recent study published in the journal General Psychiatry suggests sleep deprivation causes patients with clinical depression to go into remission.
“I think it’s a part of the undergraduate experience – not getting enough sleep,” said Michael Landier, a Rackham student.
As an undergraduate, Landier remembers getting more sleep on the weekends and less sleep during exams. During midterms, Landier averaged four to five hours of rest in a night.
“I find it more efficient to cram for an exam than to read over the course of the semester,” he said. “That way, the knowledge is fresh in my mind.”
Landier acknowledged there are different ways to prioritize one’s time. As a student, if one wants good marks and a social life, he cannot also expect adequate rest, he said.