Although good sleep habits are vital for people of all ages and all stages of life, the importance of sleep for college students simply cannot be underestimated. This is particularly true for MBA students who must devote a considerable amount of time to their studies and often have extremely tight schedules.
When you have a lot on your plate, it may be tempting to sacrifice a few hours of sleep. It’s tempting to have an extra cup of coffee in the morning and power through your day. You can also lie to yourself, insisting that you just don’t need that much sleep and promising yourself you’ll sleep in late over the weekend.
Don’t fool yourself! Rest is essential when you are committed to a serious, all-consuming task such as pursuing your MBA.
But most students are not getting the rest they need. In fact, the all-too-common notion of the “exhausted student” is a harmful stereotype that warrants a critical examination.
College Student Sleep Statistics
While many students make half-hearted attempts to get proper rest, they tend to fail when it comes to at least one or two components of good sleep hygiene, which requires a certain amount of consistency and commitment. Good sleep hygiene encompasses all activities necessary to position yourself for adequate rest every single night.
In addition to maintaining a healthy sleep schedule and adhering to the right pre-bed routine, you must be aware of the ways in which your daily routines and life habits might be affecting your sleep. Read on for a closer look at the specific and monumental sleep challenges that students need to overcome.
Sleep Deprivation in College Students
Christie Campus Health, a public health organization dedicated to improving the mental well-being of college students, has released some startling statistics that reveal just how prevalent sleep deprivation is on the average university campus. In fact, half of all college students feel sleepy over the course of an average day.
Furthermore, over 60 percent of students fail to meet the basic benchmarks of quality sleep. In order to be adequately restful and restorative, quality sleep involves factors that range from the amount of time it takes to fall asleep to the number of times you wake up during the night.
All told, a full 70 percent of students fail to get enough sleep on a regular basis, and this figure may be even higher in light of the fact that individual sleep needs can vary dramatically from person to person.
How Much Sleep Do College Students Need?
Among other factors, your age plays an oversized role in determining your exact sleep needs. So, the sleep needs of a student who gets on a MBA track right out of undergraduate will probably differ from a seasoned administrator who enrolls in an MBA program later in his or her career.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults aged 18-60 need at least 7 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. Harvard University approximates that the average adult student, who is still relatively young, requires roughly eight hours of sleep over a 24-hour period. However, precious few students manage to regularly hit this seven to eight-hour benchmark.
After conducting an in-depth study of American college students, the Sleep Foundation reported that 70 to 96 percent of students get less than eight hours of sleep per night from Monday through Friday. Even worse, more than half of college students sleep less than seven hours each night.
Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep
Examining the academic accomplishments of the students in its study, the Sleep Foundation determined that students who sleep eight hours or more were likely to outperform those who do not. These results echo the findings of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) board member Clete A. Kushida, MD, Ph.D.
A professor at Stanford University and the director of its Center for Human Sleep Research, Dr. Kushida, stresses that the importance of obtaining sufficient sleep in the student population cannot be overstated. “There are data that sleep loss leads to learning and memory impairment, as well as decreased attention and vigilance,” he says. “There is ample evidence to indicate that the lack of adequate nighttime sleep can lead to disturbances in brain function, which in turn, can lead to poor academic performance.”
Former AASM president and current board member, Lawrence Epstein, MD, calls falling asleep in class merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the negative effects of sleep deprivation. Medical director of Sleep Health Centers and instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, he says, “Recent studies have shown that adequate sleep is essential to feeling awake and alert, maintaining good health and working at peak performance.
Dr. Epstein specifically emphasizes the dangers of moderate but routine sleep loss. “After two weeks of sleeping six hours or less a night, students feel as bad and perform as poorly as someone who has gone without sleep for 48 hours,” he says. “New research also highlights the importance of sleep in learning and memory. Students getting adequate amounts of sleep performed better on memory and motor tasks than did students deprived of sleep.”
From cramming all night for exams to working part-time (or event full-time) jobs, the AASM understands full well why so many students fail to get enough rest. But no matter what causes it, a lack of sleep is bound to have a negative impact on overall academic performance and final grades. The road to success in your MBA program begins with carving out adequate time for both study and sleep.
Benefits of REM Sleep
Over the course of a night, the healthy sleeper will cycle through several key sleep stages that are essential to achieving quality rest. Take, for example, REM sleep.
Short for “rapid eye movement,” REM occurs when the sleeper’s eyes begin to dart rapidly beneath the eyelids. REM sleep is characterized by increased heart rate and brain activity. This is also the stage of sleep during which dreaming occurs.
REM sleep is important because it allows your brain to exercise neural connections that are essential to mental acuity as well as overall health and wellness. By stimulating these connections, REM sleep strengthens the brain’s capacity to establish and retain memories, two functions that are foundational to the overall learning process.
A study by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke determined that rats deprived of REM sleep had significantly shorter lifespans. In fact, their natural two- to three-year lifespans were reduced to a mere five weeks. When deprived of all sleep cycles, they lived only three weeks.
Benefits of Deep Sleep
Another extremely important stage of sleep is deep sleep (or slow-wave sleep). The third stage of non-REM sleep in a typical night, deep sleep promotes thorough rest and high rates of rejuvenation.
During deep sleep, brain activity lessens, blood pressure lowers, and muscles relax. This profoundly restful state places your body in the perfect position to recover and repair itself. The pituitary gland secretes growth hormones that create healing bodily tissue, while the brain assumes a delta wave pattern that is key to the maintenance of proper mental health.
According to the experts at the instructional organization Master Class, deep sleep not only gives you more energy but increases memory consolidation and boosts the learning process. In fact, the heightened glucose metabolism associated with deep sleep aids in both short- and long-term memory. Conversely, a lack of deep sleep can make it tremendously difficult for students to retain memories and absorb new information.
Tips for Better Sleep
Fortunately, a better night’s sleep is possible for everyone. While severe or persistent cases of insomnia may require the intervention of a physician, there are plenty of simple measures that you can take and life changes that you can make to improve your sleep right away. Here are just a few:
- Go to bed early – It should be obvious, but if you climb into bed late every night, you cannot get the roughly eight hours of sleep that you need for optimum mental performance.
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule – Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. (This means no sleeping in late over the weekend!)
- Relax before bedtime – You can read, chat, take a bath, or otherwise spend some quiet time away from computer devices and cell phones for roughly 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. Remove yourself from the stresses of daily life.
- Keep your bed for sleeping only – By engaging in actives (even relaxing activities such as reading or watching TV) while in bed, you train yourself to stay awake in a place that should be reserved exclusively for rest.
- Adjust lighting – By dimming the lights in the evening and keeping your bedroom dark overnight, you can send signals of sleep to your body.
- Adjust room temperature – Most experts recommend keeping your room around 65 degrees Fahrenheit for the best overnight sleep.
- Control noise levels – Whether or not you can maintain an entirely silent sleeping environment, you may benefit from a white noise machine or other soothing sounds.
- Don’t lie awake in bed – If you just can’t sleep, remaining in bed can actually prove detrimental. Get up and find something relaxing to do until you start to feel sleepy.
- Avoid caffeine – This popular stimulant is particularly harmful when consumed in the afternoon, evening, and night.
- Avoid nicotine – Another stimulant, nicotine can also keep you up at night.
- Avoid alcohol – Although that adult beverage might make you feel drowsy at first, it will ultimately have a negative impact on the overall quality and duration of your overnight sleep.
- Limit naps – Too much napping or napping at the wrong time can destroy your rest at night. If you need to take a nap, keep it short (less than an hour), and never nap after 3 in the afternoon.
- Maintain a healthy diet – Fresh, nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables can help keep your sleep cycles in proper rhythm and your mood well balanced.
- Don’t go to bed hungry or overly full – Never eat a large meal before bedtime. However, a light, healthy snack shortly before bed can prevent your stomach from waking you up overnight.
- Consider eating sleep-inducing foods and drinks – According to the wellness authority Healthline, foods that promote optimal sleep include almonds, turkey, kiwi, and fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, and trout. It also identified sleep-inducing drinks such as tart cherry juice and both chamomile and passionflower tea.
- Consider taking a sleep-inducing dietary supplement – Although you should be sure to talk to a doctor before taking any new vitamins, hormones, or herbal remedies, there are many dietary supplement options on the market for people who want to get a better night’s sleep. Beyond well-known sleep aids such as melatonin, Healthline identifies valerian root, magnesium, and glycine as supplements you may want to try.
- Consider using a sleep app – A quality sleep app can not only help you get enough quality sleep, but it can help you monitor and chart your sleep improvements.
At The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), we know that your academic goals won’t come easy. This is particularly true for students at the highly demanding graduate level.
The educators and administrators at the UTC Gary W. Rollins College of Business offers practical advice that goes far beyond the classroom. From optimizing study habits to getting proper sleep, we want to give you all the tools that you need to succeed.
For more information, contact UTC today through our official website.