How Sleep Hygiene Affects Academic Performance

            Life as a full-time college student has the potential to be an enjoyable, rewarding experience. Students are given the opportunity to learn from expert professors, make friends on campus, and participate in amazing clubs and organizations. However, graduating from college is not an easy endeavor. Difficulty arises when young adults are suddenly required to maintain a healthy balance between homework, a job, and a social life. Countless students struggle to stay motivated during each school year. This semester has been particularly challenging for university students because of the online formatting of most classes. When asked about how to stay on top of college life, a mentor might tell a student to focus on managing their time, wake up earlier, or spend less time with friends. These suggestions are valid and can be helpful, but I would like to discuss how a college student’s sleep hygiene can affect their success in school, at work, and more. Creating healthy sleep habits will set students up for a productive, rewarding university experience. 

            Sleep is of vital importance to the human body. During deep sleep, the brain is recharging and recovering from the waking hours of the day. If one does not get enough sleep every night, they will experience lower levels of mental and physical energy. Tasks that require critical thinking will become more difficult. According to an article in the Journal of Sleep Research, “Inadequate sleep impairs cognitive function and has been associated with worse academic achievement in higher education students” (van der Heijden et al., 2017). Therefore, lack of sleep is directly correlated to lower performance levels in college students.  The authors of this article conducted a study that assessed the connections between students’ sleep quality, how knowledgeable they were on the topic of good sleep habits, and their academic achievement. They discovered that “knowledge of sleep hygiene was a significant predictor of average grade in the current academic year” (van der Heijden et al., 2017). From this study we learn that its is important to educate college students on ideal, healthy sleep habits. According to this study, simply having the knowledge of proper sleep hygiene can positively affect a student’s grades. If more college students took the time to learn about healthy sleep schedules, they would observe a direct improvement in their motivation and productivity. 

            Having an accurate knowledge of healthy sleep hygiene is only one part of the journey to better sleep. What other factors are necessary in order to get a full night of sleep? Several studies have shown that the usage of cell phones or other screens before and during bedtime have a significant impact on sleep duration and quality. In this current era of digital technology, it becomes increasingly tempting to fall asleep while watching a movie, scroll through a social media feed during bedtime, or even video chat a loved one before falling asleep. Especially when participating in online schooling, it is important for students to be conscious of how much time they are spending on electronic devices. In a study on a group of 500 students, we learn that over eighty percent used smartphones or other electronic devices in bed before falling asleep (Chahine et al., 2018). Using electronics before bed can make it more difficult to fall asleep in a timely manner, which in turn affects sleep quality. The study shows that “Students who take longer than thirty minutes to fall asleep wake during most nights, experience nightmares, have no sleep satisfaction, feel a need to sleep during the day, and are absent during morning classes” (Chahine et al., 2018). The effects of screens before and during bedtime can also explain the “decline in average sleep duration and quality” (Chang, Aeschbach, Duffy, & Czeisler, 2014). According to this journal article, the exposure to artificial light emitted by electronic screens increases alertness, suppresses melatonin levels, and shifts the body’s biological clock. So, electronics negatively affect sleep patterns, thus affecting student’s alertness and productivity during the day. 

            For many busy college students, a quick solution to feeling unmotivated and groggy is drinking a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage before school and work. Coffee and other energy drinks such as Red Bull are popular among college students because of their high caffeine content. Caffeinated beverages are natural stimulants. They provide a quick surge of energy and alertness, and are awesome for a busy, stressful morning. But becoming caught in the deadly cycle of caffeinated beverages is dangerously easy. Drinking coffee every morning is not a healthy, long-term solution to feeling unmotivated and tired. Again, the root of these issues is often a sleep hygiene problem. When college students do not produce enough natural energy from healthy sleep, some begin to “rely on caffeine to maintain high levels of performance” (Truong, 2012). On top of being an insufficient solution to lack of sleep, consuming large amounts of caffeine can be incredibly dangerous for the human body. “High-dose caffeine use is associated with insomnia, palpitations and arrhythmias, seizures, and stroke” (Lohsoonthorn, Khidir, Casillas, Lertmaharit, & Tadesse, 2013). In their study on Thai college students, these scholars discovered that there was a significant relationship between how many caffeinated beverages a student consumed per week and the quality of their sleep. “Those who reported using three or more stimulant beverages per week or two stimulant beverages per week were classified as having poor sleep quality” (Lohsoonthorn et al., 2013) This evidence further supports the idea that caffeinated beverages are not a solution to problems with sleep quality. In fact, when consumed in large amounts, they make the problem worse.            Lack of productivity and motivation in college students is directly linked to poor sleep hygiene, whereas student with higher grades often practice good sleep hygiene. Some factors that significantly affect quality of sleep are electronic devices and caffeinated beverages. Studies have shown that students who are knowledgeable on the topic of proper sleep hygiene are likely to practice healthy sleep hygiene, which in turn improves their productivity and academic achievement. Universities and other academic institutions should educate their students on the importance of good sleep hygiene and the different factors that can disrupt healthy sleep. Staying on top of college life can be stressful and overwhelming, but making sure to get quality, refreshing sleep can make it just a little bit easier to handle.

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