Science Scene: Bad Habits | Not Sleeping

Ellen Airhart

Low grades, weight gain, cell damage and a decreased ability to tell what the opposite sex is thinking all have one thing in common — they’re symptoms of a college students’ bad night’s sleep.  “If you don’t do your work on time, you have to finish it all at once and you lose sleep,” said Apoorva Mahajan, a fifth-year geological sciences and Plan II student. “Then, when you’re avoiding work, you have nothing to do but sleep.”

Mahajan’s sleep habits are not unusual for college students. Research in the Journal of American College Health said many students sleep extra on the weekend to make up for a lack of sleep during the week. While this is a better option than not sleeping at all, students that change their sleep cycles by more than two hours on the weekend have trouble concentrating. They experience increased feelings of irritability and depression, according to a study in the journal BMC Public Health.

Students can avoid certain activities and substances in order to sleep better. Although caffeine increases alertness, studies show daily intake correlated with sleep disturbances and increased daytime sleepiness.

People who use phones, laptops or video games right before bed feel less tired, according to a study in the Journal of Sleep. These people have reduced levels of melatonin, a hormone that tells the body that it is time to sleep. They are more likely to go to sleep later and get less sleep overall.

Alcohol has a complicated relationship with sleep. For people who don’t drink often, low amounts of alcohol initially improve their ability to sleep. But an increse in alcohol consumption causes disturbed sleep patterns and more daytime sleepiness. The effects of alcohol and sleep deprivation lead students to perform poorly on cognitive tests the next day, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Students who are sleep deprived are more likely to think about suicide than students who are clinically depressed and students who are homeless, according to a study in the Journal of Affective Disorders. Students who took tests while they were sleep deprived reported feeling more confident than their peers, but their actual performance was much lower.

“A lot of students realize they are sleepy, but I don’t think they understand all of the ramifications,” said Shelley D. Hershner, a neurology professor at the University of Michigan, to the Deseret News earlier this year. “When we are sleep deprived, we don’t judge our own ability well.”

While different activities and stresses keep students awake at night, the benefits of sleep can be worth fighting for.

Follow these links to read the science behind avoiding other bad habits such as eating poorlytest anxiety and procrastination.