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Sleep Deprivation in College Students: How to Cope

Life in college is like no other. It offers valuable lessons and skills to young adults within a structured environment enabling them to acquire the independence, skills, and knowledge necessary to chart their own path. Ultimately, college students not only become employed but also contribute positively to society.

Nonetheless, college life comes at a great sacrifice comprising of rising tuition fees, and ballooning debt. Because of this, your college years must become as efficacious as possible. One of the most notorious obstacles to achieving your goal and enjoying success in college is sleep deprivation.

There is a high prevalence of irregular sleep schedules, sleep deprivation, and daytime sleepiness among college learners. The consequences of daytime sleepiness and sleep deprivation are grave. They can result in impaired mood, compromised learning, risk of academic failure, and lower GPAs. It can also raise the risk of sleep deprivation among college learners.

Sleep Deprivation 101

Sleep Deprivation 101

Image Source: Terry Cralle

Sleep deprivation is simply getting inadequate sleep to support your appropriate daytime alertness. It can be protracted or acute sleep deficiency. For learners, colloquially, acute sleep deprivation means that a student remains up for more than 24 hours. Chronic sleep deprivation, on the other hand, is characterized by little but inadequate sleep.

Many students in college suffer from sleep deprivation due to heading to bed late. Sleep deprivation among students at institutions of higher learning can also be because of waking up for a class before getting adequate sleep.

Two major processes dictate how much sleep students get;

  • The circadian rhythm
  • The homeostatic sleep drive

The circadian system refers to the body’s internal clock. It is handy at controlling hormonal secretions and wake/sleep cycles. Homeostatic sleep drive is a system that raises the sleep requirement as the wakefulness period lengthens.

The interaction of the circadian rhythm and homeostatic sleep drive

There is a very close relationship between homeostatic sleep pressure and circadian drive. These two, work hand in hand to control wakefulness and sleep. As a college student, it very important to understand this process because it not only affects how well you sleep but also your performance when you are awake.

One process is sleep independent (circadian rhythm) while the other one is sleep-dependent (homeostatic sleep drive). Any disruption of the circadian rhythm is related strongly to mood disorders and mental health. Disruption also results in the production of melatonin and the performance of the psychological functions.

Alertness and sleepiness play a huge role in sleep deprivation, especially among students. learners in college need to be alert and awake to be effective in their lessons and classwork.

Some of the indications that you are sleep deprived include:

  • Ineptness
  • Challenges in learning new concepts
  • Forgetfulness
  • Depressed mood
  • Exhaustion
  • Lack of motivation
  • Increased appetite
  • Poor concentration

Sleep Deprivation Causes

Causes of sleep deprivation among college students can be behavioral or psychological. Behavioral components are the most popular.

Let us delve into some of the causes of sleep deprivation among students in college:

Poor sleep hygiene

Poor sleep behaviors can encourage sleep deprivation. Through good sleep hygiene, you can practice habits that encourage restorative sleep. You need to avoid behaviors or substances that are not friendly to your healthy sleep.

Some of the ways you can practice great sleep hygiene include:

  • Taking part in stimulating activities before bed
  • Refraining from taking caffeine after lunch
  • Ensuring your sleeping environment is quiet
  • Having a regular sleep-wake schedule

Read More: 8 Useful Tips: How to Reset Sleep Schedule?

Too much consumption of energy and caffeinated drinks

Regular drinking of energy and caffeinated drinks increases sleep latency, enhances the capability of sustaining wakefulness and reduces sleepiness. According to this study, the adverse effects of taking caffeine took 5.5 – 7.5 hours in the system. This means that taking a drink containing it in the afternoon affects your ability to remain or fall asleep. Energy drinks, just like caffeinated ones can harm your sleep patterns.

Use of stimulants

Many young adults are increasingly using nonprescribed or prescribed stimulants to increase concentration or ‘remain awake’ during the study. The nonprescribed utilization of stimulants is linked to among other things escalated use of marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol. Although not all stimulants are unhealthy, misuse can lead to ADHD.

Overuse of Technology

Overusing technology before bedtime can also play a role in sleep deprivation. Some of the common usages of tech among college students include video games, computers, music gadgets, and cell phones. Usage of the computer before sleep causes less restful sleep, drowsiness, and Epworth sleepiness scales. Using cell phones before you call it a day results in waking up too early, repeated awakenings, as well as challenges falling asleep. Playing video games results in increased sleep latency.

Also Read: How Long Before Bed Should I Turn off Electronics?

How to Cope with Sleep Deprivation in College?

Avoid caffeine like a plague

Image Source: Terry Cralle

Avoid caffeine like a plague

As aforementioned, caffeine is a sleep killer. Up to 78 percent of freshmen in college consume more than 18 cups of coffee daily. While the drink might be tasty and addictive, it is harmful to the sleep life of a college student. Too much ingestion of caffeine comes in the way in your ability to focus, as well as causing memory loss and chronic fatigue symptoms.

Ingesting caffeine in larger doses causes the body to get used to it. Similar to other drugs, you will need more adenosine to handle the higher caffeine levels within the system. The last thing you want as a student is for your body to deteriorate in terms of alertness because it is depending on caffeine to perform optimally. To be on the safe side, it is prudent to avoid taking caffeinated drinks.

Consider natural sleeping aids

Chamomile Tea

Image Source: Terry Cralle

Natural sleeping aids are an effective alternative to over the counter sleeping pills. These not only promote sleep but also ease anxiety and encourage relaxation. Most of them are associated with other health-related benefits such as improved pain relief and digestion.

Before considering sleeping medication, you need to try natural approaches first. The following are some of the natural sleeping solutions you should try:

  • ChamomileChamomile tea, which is an herbal tea, features antioxidants that enhance better sleep. Chamomile also relieves headaches, relaxes muscles, aids in digestion and healing/soothing of the skin/boost the immune system.
  • Valerian – Valerian root extracts are magical at inducing sleep. You can take valerian root as veggie caps.
  • Magnolia bark – Extracts of the magnolia bark is handy in enhancing sleep through three main ways:
  • Magnesium supplements – Taking magnesium supplements not only relaxes your muscles, but it also reduces your stress hormones hence making sure you enjoy a peaceful night of sleep.
  • Hops – According to this 2014 study, hops are magical at improving sleep. Hops also boast antibacterial properties, assists in digestive issues, relieve irritability and lower cholesterol.
  • Passionflower – The fact that passionflower has chemicals that boast a calming effect makes it a great natural solution for guys battling sleep deprivation according to this 2016 study.
  • Melatonin – As an important hormone in the body, melatonin regulates the circadian rhythms. To enjoy an improvement in your sleep quality and fall asleep faster, you need to take supplemental melatonin.
  • Ginseng – This 2013 study established that red ginseng extracts boosted positive effects on those with problems related to sleep. Ginseng also treats impotence, fights stress and raises energy levels.
  • LavenderLavender, according to this 2015 study is handy at enhancing general sleep quality.

Consider CBT

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a psychotherapy strategy that boosts happiness and solves issues through the modification of dysfunctional thoughts, behaviors, and emotions touching on perceptions and thoughts that affect behavior. Over the years, CBT has been utilized to treat different kinds of sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, delayed sleep phase, daytime sleepiness/fatigue, shift work and even sleep deprivation. Through CBT, you can manage to combat the sleep’s psychological side.

Behavioral interventions such as CBT mainly target thinking and behaviors that either worsen or maintain disturbances in sleep. The strategies equip you with self-management skills to enhance your sleep and/or resume normal and healthy sleep.

When you suffer from sleep deprivation, there can be periods at night when you are awake and negative thoughts run through your mind. If the trend continues each night, insomnia can set it quickly. CBT is effective at regulating or getting rid of these worries or negative thoughts thus enabling you to enjoy a peaceful and uninterrupted night.

Note: CBT works for autistic patients as well. Check to know more details.

Practice yoga (and meditation)

Yoga combines different breathing techniques, postures, and meditation to achieve different goals. One of the goals is solving the issue of sleep deprivation. As a college student, if you practice yoga frequently, you can improve the quality of your sleep drastically.

Yoga revives your body through two primary ways:

  • Facilitates the production of toxins that are stored in organs and tissues
  • Breathing exercises improve oxygen circulation that plays a huge role in body replenishment

Undertake a session of yoga just before bedtime to enhance your sleep quality. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Begin with meditation for a few minutes
  2. Follow meditation with a twisted seat
  3. Then a bent cross leg
  4. Then the knees-to-chest pose
  5. A half happy baby and reclining twist should be last poses

As you do the above poses, ensure you remain focused on breathing. When you do that, you will notice that the strains and stresses that have accumulated will start to drift away.

On top of helping solve sleep deprivation, yoga can also be handy in:

  • Relieving anxiety
  • Delaying functional decline
  • Reducing blood pressure


Some of the other ways to cope with sleep deprivation in college include:

  • Create a sleep-friendly environment
  • Take ample rest
  • Undertake regular exercises
  • Avoid alcohol intake
  • Refrain from daytime naps

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