Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Back on Campus: Stress, Sleep & College Life

A new study shows that sleep problems will be common as college students return to campus for the fall semester.

study involved 1,125 students at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. They completed an online survey about their sleep habits, mood, health and related factors.

Results show that more than 60 percent were poor sleepers; these students were much more likely to have problems with their physical and mental health. Taking medications to sleep better also was common.

What was the primary cause of sleep problems? The authors report that students “overwhelmingly stated that emotional and academic stress negatively impacted sleep.” Data analysis revealed that tension and stress were significant predictors of sleep quality.

The study also shows that students were sleep deprived. Only 30 percent of students reported sleeping at least eight hours per night. Twenty percent of students stayed up all night at least once a month; 35 percent stayed up until 3 a.m. at least once a week.

This sleep loss had an effect on class performance; 12 percent of poor sleepers reported falling asleep in class or missing class at least three times a month.

"Students underestimate the importance of sleep in their daily lives,” study co-author Roxanne Prichard, PhD, said in a
prepared statement. “They forgo sleep during periods of stress, not realizing that they are sabotaging their physical and mental health."

The AASM reports that stress can lead to
adjustment insomnia. This involves disturbed sleep or sleeplessness that may last for a few days or a few weeks. Other symptoms may include anxiety, worry and tension.

The study authors state that intervention programs are needed to help college students prevent and overcome sleep problems. Some schools have already taken action.

In March a UC San Diego
program educated students about the benefits of napping. Last fall the Boston Globe reported that schools such as MIT are using seminars, workshops and contests to promote good sleep habits. And at Stanford a “Sleep and Dreams” class has been offered for years.

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