Roshni Patel and Keylon Moraldo are two complete strangers with one thing in common: Neither of them gets enough sleep.
Patel, a sophomore biomedical sciences major, is at the library almost every night during the school week. A typical day on campus for her begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 1 a.m., when she finally returns to her off-campus apartment.
“I probably get four to five hours of sleep on a normal night,” Patel said. “Some nights I get even less, and I feel really sleepy. Then I’m just dragging myself through the day, trying to figure out the next time I can hit my bed.”
Moraldo, a sophomore chemical engineering major, cites his heavy workload and roommate issues for his lack of sleep. He says that getting the ideal seven to eight hours of rest is impossible because he has so much to do and needs to get good grades.
“I don’t have a bedtime. I just basically nap for an hour or so— seriously, it’s what I do!” he said. “I know it’s not good, and I’m trying to readjust it in time for exams, so I can be well-rested for them.”
Patel and Moraldo are just two of the many college students nationwide who are sleep-deprived. Nearly 60 percent of college students claimed to feel “tired, dragged out, or sleepy” on multiple days during a normal week, according to a 2010 study of over 95,000 students by the American College Health Association. Brown University also reported that only 11 percent of college students get good sleep.
“Unfortunately, students don’t realize how much sleep deprivation affects their performance,” said Rachael Novick, a certified health education specialist at the USF Wellness Education center. “Health-wise, sleep can affect everything.”
Novick said that lack of sleep can cause students to feel more stressed leading to weight gain, a weakened immune system and problems learning and remembering material for class.
Dr. Robert Geck, the associate program director and a faculty physician at the USF Sleep Center, agreed.
“Inadequate sleep makes it difficult to consolidate your memories and to form new ones,” he said. “As a student, pulling an all-nighter actually impairs your memory more than getting a good night’s rest.”
Geck also pointed out that students run the risk of injuring themselves and others when they don’t get enough sleep. At a commuter school like USF, sleep-deprivation can cause grogginess and judgment problems in students driving to and from campus, resulting in car accidents.
But the bad news doesn’t stop there.
The amount of stress on a student’s body due to sleep deprivation could also have some serious consequences.
“Increased stress can lead to an increased disposition towards diabetes, heart disease and stroke farther down the road for students,” Geck said.
However, the good news is that it’s never too late for students to try and fix their sleeping habits.
“A lot of students don’t know what it feels like to be well-rested and productive because they never have been,” said Novick.
The Wellness Education center seeks to inform students on the importance of getting more sleep through data collection and programs on campus involving topics such as proper napping. Novick explained that naps shouldn’t make up for students’ lack of nighttime sleep, and they should only last 20 to 30 minutes. That amount of time allows students’ bodies to reach a restorative level of sleep, allowing them to wake up feeling energized.
“Sleep packs” are also available for free from the Wellness Education center. They include earplugs, an eye mask and “sleepy time” tea to help a student relax and get a good night’s rest.
Students may also be surprised that some of their daily habits can affect the quality of their sleep at night.
Geck recommended avoiding caffeinated drinks after 12 p.m. Beverages like coffee and soda only help to alleviate tired feelings for a short time, and can make it difficult to fall asleep at night. He explained that electronics, such as cell phones, tablets and TVs, should be turned off and kept away from the bed. The noises and light produced by these devices can disturb a student’s sleep throughout the night.
But the biggest change is probably the easiest to think of: setting a sleep schedule.
“Ideally, the key would be to keep a strict sleep regimen. Try to keep the same bedtime and wakeup time, if you can, regardless of the day of the week,” said Geck.
Like any problem, the first step to solving it is admitting you have one, and Patel and Moraldo aren’t in denial.
“I think if I didn’t feel like I have to do every single thing, I’d have more time to sleep,” said Moraldo. “I’m definitely going to spend a lot of time sleeping over winter break, and hopefully come back to school on a better schedule.”
Patel sees a few all-nighters in her future, and knows exactly how they will impact the average amount of sleep she gets.
“Oh, it’ll decrease, for sure,” she said. “I wish I got more sleep than I do.”