Irregular Sleeping Patterns in College Students

Irregular Sleeping Patterns in College Students

In research with children and adolescents, insufficient duration of sleep has been linked to numerous problems in cognitive functioning, emotion regulation, and health. How many hours of sleep they are getting is a preeminent concern among parents, educators, mental health professionals, and researchers. The movement to start schools later in the morning is predicated on the idea that later starts will give students more opportunity to sleep and they will take advantage by sleeping long enough to do better academically and socially. Less attention is paid to the quality of sleep, which also needs to be sufficient for optimal functioning. Even if someone sleeps longer, their sleep may be of lower quality if they have trouble falling asleep for various reasons, such as worry, stress, drinking too many caffeinated beverages, or looking at computer and smartphone screens. They may also be subject to frequent nighttime awakenings, another index of poor sleep quality.

A third important aspect of healthy sleep is regularity and timing of sleep. Sleep is best when it occurs for about the same amount of time each day and is during the same hours of the day. In other words, if you average 8 hours of sleep but you vary between 6 hours and 10 hours each night, you may not attain optimal benefits from sleep. Similarly, if you average 8 hours of sleep but vary your bedtimes and wake times, say by going to bed at 10 PM some nights and 2 AM other nights, that sleep is not optimal. Groups of persons interested in improving sleep, including researchers, have paid less attention to regularity than to duration and quality.

When students begin college, even if their sleep is long enough and of sufficient quality (which it usually isn't), they almost always have irregular sleep patterns compared to when they were in high school. Having a class schedule that varies from day to day is one driver of those patterns. Having new freedom to set their own bedtimes and wake times often leads to variability in sleep timing. A new study has confirmed that irregular sleep is related to worse well-being. The authors collected data from 223 undergraduate students by having them wear altigraph's to monitor their bedtimes and wake times over a month along with other aspects of sleep. Each day, they rated their well-being along a number of dimensions: sleepy versus alert; sad versus happy; sluggish versus energetic, sick versus healthy; and stressed versus calm. The results showed that students who had more regular sleep patterns had overall better well-being.

College students, especially those transitioning to college in their first and second years, have a high prevalence of adjustment and mental health problems. The provision of counseling services and the number of students receiving treatment has never been higher. Improving student’s sleep patterns with more regular, high-quality sleep of sufficient duration has the potential of having a significant influence on their well-being. Many college counseling centers are incorporating counseling about sleep into their prevention and treatment programs. Scheduling of classes for more regularity is challenging but may also be a worthy goal for students and administrators.

Kind regards,

The SpineAlign Team