The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Survey Finds Students Are Not Getting Enough Sleep

5 min read

According to a new Bullet survey, most University of Mary Washington students are getting inadequate sleep.

This information comes at a time when research is mounting on sleep deprivation’s harm to health and grades.

In the online survey, 100 UMW students responded and 59 percent said they routinely sleep four to six hours a night, falling well short of the suggested eight hours.  Among those surveyed, 72 percent of students experience “disturbed sleep,” or waking up an average of two times a night.

One statistic found that 62 percent of students said that they sometimes drive “drowsy.”

UMW does offer a series of informational pamphlets on the importance of sleep. These pamphlets contain tips on how to create a healthy sleep environment and some information on how to make sleep an easier process. The pamphlets suggest shutting off laptops, televisions and cell phones at least an hour before going to sleep, and keeping a regular sleep schedule.

The results of the Bullet survey mirror other studies. An article published online by the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2009 stated that 60 percent of college students dealt with sleep deprivation, brought on mostly from personal and academic stress.

That study surveyed 1,125 college students and stated that 20 percent of students said they pulled an “all-nighter” at least once a month. One-third of the students said they stayed up until at least 3 a.m.

Another study, conducted by Prof. Pamela Thacher at St. Lawrence University, surveyed 111 students and found that two-thirds of participants claimed they pull an all-nighter once a semester.

According to Thacher’s study, those two-thirds of students have lower GPAs. Her study states that the short-term side effects of sleep deprivation can include delayed reactions and more mistakes.

A report put out by the Institute of Medicine states that long-term health risks of sleep deprivation include higher risks of diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attacks and strokes.

Here at UMW, students are suffering from sleep deprivation for a multitude of reasons.

“Yes I am sleep deprived,” said Megan Shea, a freshman art and psychology major at UMW. “It’s mostly because of the amount of homework I have, combined with an active social life, that I feel as though I never sleep anymore.”

“It’s either get sleep and do well in school, but have no social life, have a social life but do poorly in school, or try and manage a social life and schoolwork while becoming sleep deprived,” said Shea.

Shea’s sleep deprivation is not only affecting her academics, but is causing her medical problems as well. Already suffering from a weakened immune system after having a severe case of mononucleosis, an illness associated with fatigue, Shea believes that her lack of sleep in college has caused her to be perpetually ill.

“So far I have gotten sick three times and am currently starting to get sick again,” Shea said. “Sleep deprivation has had a very negative impact on my life.”

Chelsea Mills, a freshman biology major at UMW, said she definitely feels sleep- deprived.

“Whenever I lay down or begin to relax, I fall asleep,” Mills said. “I doze off in classes and cannot focus on school work at times simply because I am too tired.”

Mills stated that her lack of sleep increases as her schoolwork piles up.

“I am definitely more sleep-deprived during papers because, if needed, I will stay up all night to finish a paper,” she said.

Not every student on campus has problems with getting enough sleep.

Sophomore Colin McElhinny said, “While I do have class Tuesday and Thursday at 8 a.m., I get to sleep in the other five days of the week, so I’m really not sleep deprived.”

However, people like McElhinny can be hard to come by.

Antonio Barrenechea, an associate professor of English at UMW, has noticed the effects sleep deprivation is having on students in class.

“I’ve noticed that students often appear tired, but I do not know if this is due to an increase in work load, the tedium of an outside job or poor personal habits,” he said.      Barrenechea recalled one student three years ago who would always show up on-time to class and sit in the front row, but “without fail, she would then proceed to nap on and off throughout the class period.”

These experiences are not unique to UMW.

A sophomore fashion merchandising major at Virginia Commonwealth University, Elisa Zappas said that the five hours of sleep she gets at night is all she can manage between working and attending school full-time.

“I work so much, and I have so many responsibilities with my studies that I have no time to socialize and I always just want to sleep,” Zappas said. “Because I’m constantly busy, I don’t put forth my best in everything I do, because I can’t physically do it.”

The National Sleep Foundation states that the average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep every night. They say that without this amount of sleep the body cannot “complete all the phases needed for muscle repair, memory consolidation and release of hormones regulating growth and appetite.”

According to the NSF’s recent National Online Healthcare Professional Insomnia Poll, many people who said they suffered from insomnia “engage in stimulating activities an hour before getting into bed.”

These activities include housework, watching TV or surfing the Internet. The NSF states that these activities can agitate the mind and hinder sleep.

Dr. Phillip Fuller of the Sleep and Wake Disorders Center at Mary Washington Hospital said that a major cause of sleep deprivation among adolescents is Delayed Sleep Disorder. This is when a person’s circadian clock shifts so they are unable to fall asleep until later at night, he said.

According to Fuller, a less-publicized but much more prevalent cause of sleep deprivation is sleep apnea. Fuller said sleep apnea is caused by a physical block of airflow during sleep. This causes loud snoring and a pause in breathing for a few seconds, which is then interrupted by a loud grunt.

According to Fuller, this grunt wakes up the mind for a few seconds, and while the body is not fully awoken, these few seconds add to sleep debt.

Connor Borysewicz, an exercise science major and sophomore at Old Dominion University, accepts that sleep-deprivation affects his life and the lives of his friends.

“I know many of my friends struggle with sleep deprivation. It’s hard not to with the workload and responsibilities being undertaken,” Borysewicz said. “I think it’s something people need to start speaking up about– talking to someone that can help them.”

This report was contributed to by Jonathan Polson, Katie Redmiles, David Rodriguez and Amanda Scheel.