Studies issue wake-up call to students

Steve Morrow demonstrates how to sleep like a student in OM last Monday evening. PHOTO BY COLEMAN MOLNAR


Mike Davies:  Roving Editor  Ω

It’s a safe bet that you’re not getting a healthy amount of quality rest.

Whether it’s because you’re spending your should-be-sleeping time studying, partying, or just laying in bed with your mind whirling, you probably aren’t doing yourself any favours when neglecting this important aspect of your life.

Recent studies have focused on sleep and academics, and found consistent support not only for the theory that college students aren’t getting adequate rest, but also of the negative effects of this fact.

“Students underestimate the importance of sleep in their daily lives,” said Roxanne Prichard, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnisota. She recently co-authored a sleep study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“They forgo sleep during periods of stress, not realizing that they are sabotaging their physical and mental health.”

According to the study, only 30 per cent of students sleep at least eight hours a night—the average requirement for young adults—and more than 60 per cent of college students have disturbed sleep-waking patterns.

Of concern to researchers was the students’ tendency to use alcohol and drugs to regulate their cycles. Poor sleepers are more likely than good sleepers to use medication to stay awake or fall asleep and twice as likely to use alcohol to induce sleep, according to the study.

The use of prescription drugs is also on the rise among college students wanting to get more rest.

According to a Web survey of 3,639 college students conducted by research associate professor at the University of Michigan Sean McCabe, 59.9 per cent of students reported using prescription drugs, including sleep aids with a prescription, and 15.8 per cent used these medications both with and without a prescription.

People who use both prescription and non-prescription drugs to help them sleep also tend to feel drowsy when they are awake, prompting another response—also in the form of drugs.

Caffeine pills, energy drinks and even coffee or caffeinated soft-drinks are often used as a means to rebound from drowsiness caused by sleep aids, which leads to a vicious circle of drug use, according to Nancy Nur, a pharmacist at CVS Pharmacy in Coral Gables, Florida.

“People may need to start taking more meds to deal with the effects of the [sleep medication].  It’s counterproductive and putting your body through a lot.”

Marc D. Gellman, a research associate professor for health psychology at the University of Miami, claims that while sleep aids are not generally addictive since the body doesn’t technically develop a physical dependence on them, many people become mentally reliant on them, believing they must take them in order to sleep well.

He also points out that there’s a risk of addiction to sleep aids similar to that of some people’s need for caffeine to stay awake or start their day.

Another study, performed by the department of medicine at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. indicated that, “insufficient sleep time, with associated sleepiness, fatigue, and inattentiveness, has been identified as a major cause of poor academic performance among high school and college-aged students.”

According to the study, there was a significant difference in the timing of sleep between high and low academic performers, specifically relating to the time the students went to bed and the time they woke up in the morning.

Those students who went to bed earlier at night and woke up earlier in the morning averaged better academically.

And don’t think that catching up on neglected sleep will offset these effects.  According to the study, “[the] timing of sleep and wakefulness correlated more closely with academic performance than total sleep time and other relevant factors,” meaning that naps in the afternoon do not greatly make up for lost sleep time at night.

So the moral of the story is an old saying proven true. “Early to bed, early to rise” makes for the best academic performance, and sleep itself should be considered an important use of a student’s time.

For those who wish to know more about sleep and its positive effects, sleep medications, or any other sleep related questions, TRU is hosing its second annual Multidisciplinary Sleep Science Conference on March 18-20.

According to Les Matthews, associate professor of sleep therapy at TRU and organizer of the conference, “The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and a number of other organizations like the Canadian Sleep Society are working hard to support efforts to examine the entire realm of sleep.”

“The spectrum of impairment from depression to diabetes and ADHD makes sleep research a hot item,” Matthews said.  “Ten years ago it was hard to find much research, while today it is overwhelming on almost every topic. Pick just about any topic and I can find something related to sleep research in that area.”

Registration for the conference for students is $75 before Feb. 15—but $150 if you wait to get a ticket at the door—and includes many informative presentations and discussions with sleep professionals in the many facets of sleep research, as well as a dinner.

Schedules and information can be found at