Students do it in class. They do it at meals. They do it all day long and well into the night.
Yawning is routine on college campuses, and many students accept exhaustion as a way of life. At the peak of midterm season, students without dark circles under their eyes are a rarity on campus.
Just 11% of U.S. college students report sleeping well, and four in 10 say they feel well-rested only two days of the average week, according to a Harvard Medical School sleep study.
Keith Edwards, a junior public relations major at the University of Alabama, said he gets about six hours of sleep each night — two hours less than the recommended eight hours of shut eye. He spends seven hours on campus for his classes before starting his assignments and studying for the next day.
“If all I ever did with my life was study and complete homework I’d probably get several more hours of sleep a night, but I’m involved with several organizations on campus that eat up my time,” said Edwards, 20.
Edwards is trying to find the balance between all the things he expected to do at this point in his life — academic pursuits, campus involvement and a social life. But other students are sacrificing some of what they thought would be a guaranteed part of college, just so they can get a reasonable amount of sleep.
For Eleni Kouvatsos, a junior at the University of Florida, social life doesn’t make the cut.
“If I wanted to have any sort of social life right now, I’d probably be getting 3 hours of sleep every night,” she said.
Kouvatsos, 20, said her class work is “seemingly endless,” and although she said she thinks her professors are aware that students aren’t getting much sleep, she believes most professors attribute students’ tiredness to things other than their studying habits.
“Many instructors think the main reason students don’t get much sleep is because they’re staying out all night with friends — which is true for a lot of students — but a lot of students are sleep deprived solely because of their coursework,” she said.
Edwards agreed that although sleep deprivation is an acknowledged problem on campus, his teachers are less than understanding.
“I do think professors are aware, but I don’t get the impression that they are sympathetic to it. People just assume that a lack of sleep is part of college life,” he said. “In their eyes students are in school to go to that class, and that means putting in the time and effort to do well.”
Skipping sleep to do work can actually have adverse effects on academic performance. Sleep deprivation has been shown to cause slowed thought process, impaired memory, difficulty learning and slowed reaction time, according to WebMD.
“I’ll move more slowly through the next day though, and I definitely have a harder time paying attention in class,” Edwards said.
A 2010 University of Minnesota study found that students’ GPAs decrease in relation to their lack of sleep.
Edwards and Kouvatsos both say that as they progress through college into harder courses, their sleep schedules worsen each semester. They also agree that the lack of sleep, combined with harder course material in general, often correlates with lower grades.
“If I decide not to sleep so I can study for an exam, I typically don’t do well on the test because I’m too exhausted to focus,” Kouvatsos said.
Many college newspapers such as The Oakland Post and The East Carolinian have published articles recently about the lack of sleep students face, but few identify solutions for students to get more pillow time.
“In order to get more sleep, I would either have to take fewer credits and easier classes or put forth less effort, thus sacrificing my GPA,” said Kouvatsos, who, like most students, isn’t willing to make that sacrifice just for a chance to hit the snooze button once more.
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