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Sleep Deprivation Effects on Students

School is a leading cause of sleep deprivation in younger people worldwide. For instance, some studies have shown that:

  • About 18.5% of university students suffer from insomniax, with some schools estimated to reach as high as 40%.
  • The sleep deprivation among Haramaya University students was 68.4%x
  • The sleep deprivation among Brown University students was 73%x
  • Over half of the Lebanese university students reported having poor sleepx

Let’s take a closer look at this issue.

πŸ”Ž Feel free to jump to your preferred section in this article:

1. Causes
2. Consequences
3. Solutions

1. The Underlying Causes

Several factors can cause, or contribute to, sleep deprivation in students.

1.1 Academic Pressures

Pursuing academic success, which can result from self-motivation or parental expectations, can lead students to sleep less to find more time to dedicate to their studies.

1.2 Socialization

Socialization is a part of many student’s lives, and this can lead them to stay up late. While social interactions can be very positive for mental health and personal development, they can come with the cost of getting less sleep.

1.3 Poor Sleep Hygiene

A lifestyle that isn’t conducive to sleep can lead to reduced sleep duration and quality. In younger people, one of the most significant contributors in this area is undoubtedly technology and digital media consumption.

1.4 Stress and Poor Mental Health

Academic life, personal issues, the weight of expectations, the uncertainty of the future, social isolation and more can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression, known causes of insomnia.

These four reasons are, I would say, the main ones contributing to the sleep issues affecting students. Now let’s see how these issues can affect them, specifically.

2. Consequences

Suffering from sleep deprivation can have multiple negative effects on a person in general, but it can also affect students in ways that are relevant to their academic situation.

2.1. Reduced Cognitive Functions

The most immediate effect of sleep deprivation is the decline of cognitive functions, which manifests in multiple ways:

2.1.1 Reduced Attention and Focus

Reduced attention might make the student more absent-minded and miss out on critical key details in class, leading to misunderstandings or gaps in knowledge.

Reduced focus will prevent the student from concentrating on a task for long. This task can be studying or even trying to solve a problem in an exam.

2.1.2 Reduced Decision-Making

Students with reduced decision-making skills cannot make clear and effective choices. This can be a problem when working on group projects, for instance, where they might struggle to find the best approach to collectively solve a problem, or allocate tasks to others effectively.

2.1.4 Reduced Memory

Suffering from sleep-induced brain fog and memory loss can make a student forget essential details when it matters the most, like during an exam.

2.1.5 Reduced Learning

A student’s ability to learn new information or skills is also diminished during sleep deprivation. It’s important to remember this since this is arguably the main reason why the student is attending school in the first place.

2.1.6 Poor Communication

Sleep deprivation can affect students’ communication skills, making them less effective in group discussions or presentations. You can imagine a brain-fogged student during a presentation, completely struggling to present their ideas clearly and coherently. Not a great look.

2.1.7 Emotional Instability

Lack of sleep can lead to lower emotional stability, which results in:

  • Lower capacity to cope with stress
  • Unregulated emotions
  • Neuroticism and negative thinking will increase due to the impairment of the prefrontal cortexx
  • Information is more influenced by emotions, rather than by objective facts. This is the result of an unregulated amygdalax

Emotional instability can lead to the three insomnia-causing mental health issues I’ve mentioned β€” stress, anxiety, and depression.

2.1.8 Poor Interpersonal Relationships

A student who hasn’t been getting much sleep can see a decline in their social skills (e.g. failing to recognize and respond to social cues). As a result, this can lead the student to conflicts with others, misunderstandings, and, in the most extreme cases, even social isolation.

2.2 Loss of Motivation

Students with higher sleep quality tend to be more motivated and engaged in their studies and extracurricular activities.

2.3 Absenteeism and Delay to School

Sleep deprivation will make students more prone to arrive late at classes, or simply not showing up at all.

2.4 Performance Deterioration

As you can expect, a sleep-deprived, unmotivated, and cognitive-impaired student will not be in their top form to get the type of academic results that matter. Therefore, it can be expected students to have:

  • Decreased quality of assignments.
  • Lower scores on exams.

3. Solutions

Now that we’ve gone over the causes and consequences, we should focus on what strategies can be used by students to improve their situations.

It is commonly said, as a joke, that a student can only pick two out of the three following options: good grades vs social life vs sleep.

Is it true? Yeah, kind of. There’s a limited amount of time in a day, so priorities need to be set in place, and choices need to be made. Focus on one thing, another will suffer.

But can something be done to improve this situation? Also yes.

The main idea is to become more efficient:

  1. Becoming more efficient at studying.
  2. Becoming more efficient at socializing.
  3. Becoming more efficient at sleeping.

Once this efficiency is achieved, it is possible to do more with less. Consequently, some extra available time will be found, which can then be rightfully put into one of the other pyramid activities. Let’s go over some tips on how to do this:

3.1 Improving Study Efficiency

There are some proven techniques known to improve productivity and time efficiency.

Here are some techniques tailored for students:

3.1.1 Pomodoro Technique

  • Studying for 30 minutes (a pomodoro), then taking a 5-minute break.
  • After completing four Pomodoros, a longer break of about 15 minutes is taken.
  • This method often results in better concentration and productivity.
  • Example: Breaking down a chapter into 30-minute study intervals to improve retention and understanding.
  • I personally recommend this technique. I even bought a physical Pomodoro timer, because it feels much more practical and immediate than a digital alternative.

3.1.2 The Eisenhower Box

  • Categorizing study tasks into four quadrants: Urgent and Important, Important but Not Urgent, Urgent but Not Important, and Not Urgent and Not Important.
  • It helps prioritize assignments based on their urgency and relevance.
  • Example: Using tools like Google Calendar, Tasks, or Notion, students can set a roadmap for their studies and projects, minimizing procrastination, and preventing last-minute rushes.
  • Completing the highest priority tasks first will go a long way in reducing stress and increasing free time down the line.

3.1.3 Batch Processing

  • Grouping similar study tasks and tackling them all at once.
  • This method minimizes distractions and boosts focus.
  • Example: A student who is constantly interrupted by study-related emails may decide to dedicate a specific time of the day exclusively to replying to them. They will ignore their inbox at any other time.

3.1.4 The 80/20 Rule

  • The 80/20 Rule suggests that 80% of academic results may come from 20% of study efforts.
  • Example: Focusing on key concepts that are likely to appear on the exam or concepts that serve as the foundations upon which other concepts are dependent.

3.1.5 Identifying Peak Study Hours

  • Recognizing the times when one is most alert and motivated.
  • Scheduling challenging subjects or tasks during these peak hours for optimal results.
  • Working in sync with one’s natural rhythm can improve academic performance.

3.1.6 Consistency > Intensity

It is important to remember that having shorter but consistent daily sessions of work or studying is better than longer and intense bursts of effort.

Doing all the work or studying intensely the day before the deadline is a common practice among students, but this is not such a good idea for a couple of reasons:

  • The work and study quality can suffer, because there’s not enough time to cover everything.
  • Sleep may suffer because there’s the need to stay up late to compensate for the lack of consistent effort over the previous weeks.
  • Both points are risk factors for lower grades and academic performance.

3.1.7 Trying Different Learning Techniques

Instead of just focusing on time-management techniques, it may be beneficial to explore new learning techniques that allow one to learn topics better, and reduce the need to go over them in the future.

  • Mind Mapping: Breaking down complex ideas using diagrams and flowcharts.
  • Active Recall: Instead of just reading about a topic passively, the student creates questions based on that topic, and then repeatedly tests themselves by answering them. Studies have proved this to be a highly valuable study techniquex.
  • Interleaving: Incorporating material from multiple classes in a single study session. While this doesn’t make studying easier, it’s a technique shown to promote better understanding and recallx.
  • Study groups: some people learn better and faster when studying with others.

3.2 Improving Social Life Efficiency

There are some techniques a student can try to make their social life more efficient.

3.2.1 Prioritize Quality Over Quantity

Instead of trying to attend every social event, the student can choose those that matter most to them and where they can genuinely connect with others.

Example: Imagine a student is invited to a classmate’s birthday party and a casual meetup with close friends. Instead of attending both, the student decides to only meet up with their close friends because they value deep conversations and quality time over large gatherings.

3.2.2 Schedule Social Activities

Scheduling regular social activities that are more frequent, but shorter in duration.

Example: Every Wednesday evening, a student and their friends meet at a local cafe for 1 hour. Everyone can de-stress, share updates, and maintain a close bond despite their busy schedules.

3.3 Improving Sleep Efficiency

Just like study and socialization, sleep can also be optimized.

Most people are not very efficient in their sleep, so there’s no reason to think students are any different. Not being sleep efficient means a student spends more time awake in bed than necessary. This involves taking too much time to fall asleep once they lay down on the pillow and also waking up multiple times during the night.

Then there’s also sleep quality. Low sleep quality means a student doesn’t wake up feeling well-rested and refreshed. This is typically because they don’t spend enough time in deep and REM sleep.

If a student can improve those sleep metrics, then they might be able to achieve restful and restorative sleep within their time limitations.

Here are some things that can be tried to achieve that.

3.3.1 Using the LucidLink app

Me and my team designed this app with features that track how our lifestyles impact our sleep efficiency and quality (among other things).

By exploring and implementing new habits β€” let’s say related to exercise or diet β€” and tracking them with the app, correlations between them and sleep will start showing up.

Then, whatever improves sleep quality and efficiency should be kept in one’s lifestyle; whatever doesn’t, should be ceased.

I often operate fine under 7 hours of sleep β€” as long as I’m very rigorous in doing the things that improve my sleep quality at night β€” so I know from experience the power of the personalized, data-driven insights provided by the app.

3.3.2 Improving Sleep Hygiene

A student’s routines, lifestyle, and the activities they engage in can harm their sleep quality and duration.

Examples include:

  • Staying up late to:
    • Watch TV
    • Play video games
    • Scroll through Social Media
    • Engage in a hobby
    • Socialize

Some of these activities can occur as a form of revenge bedtime procrastination, where students stay awake past their ideal bedtime to make up for the time they feel is being stolen from them by their obligations during the day. This behavior happens as a way to try to regain some control.

Having poor sleep hygiene can also involve any other behaviors, habits, and environmental factors that are not conducive to good sleep, such as:

3.3.3 Alcohol Consumption

People usually say college is the best time of your life It turns out part of the reason they say it is because of the parties and the β€” how do I put this? β€” huge amounts of alcohol involved 🍻

Alcohol might be a problem for many reasons, but I’ll mention the one most relevant to this article. Remember when I said sleep quality is associated with spending enough time in deep and REM sleep?

Well, alcohol may make one feel relaxed and sleepy at first, but then it disrupts sleep cycles and reduces the amount spent In deep and REM sleep. This deprives the body and the brain of the restorative benefits of those sleep stages and lowers sleep quality overall.

3.4 Improving Mental Health

Stress, anxiety, and depression are common problems among students, which are known to cause insomnia.

If you’re a student reading this suffering from any of these issues, know that there are solutions available and that these solutions work.

3.4.1 Seeking Professional Help:

One of the best ways to deal with mental health problems is to consult a mental health professional. Many schools and universities offer these types of services for free/reduced cost to their students.

I was once in a bind in college and decided to talk with the school psychotherapist. He was very helpful during the 4 sessions I went to and helped me deal with the negative emotions I felt then. So, I can say that I personally recommend this method, as I’ve felt its effects myself.

3.4.2 Physical Activity

Regular physical activity is known to boost endorphin levels, improving your mood. Many schools have fitness centers or physical activity facilities that students can take advantage of.

As a fitness aficionado myself, I can also confirm this. High-intensity Interval Training (HIIT) a couple of times a week seems to be particularly effective in achieving this in my opinion. Read more about this topic here.

3.4.3 Balanced Diet

A proper diet, rich in whole foods, vitamins, and minerals can positively impact your mental well-being. Schools often provide nutritional guidance and resources to help students.

It is also preferable to have a large, good-quality breakfast in the morning, as this is associated with better mental health in students.

3.4.4 Stay Connected

Many college students are, for the first time, away from their families and hometown friends, so it’s important to make an effort to keep in touch with them regularly.

It is also essential to try to form bonds with people at your school so that you can build a new support system and network.

These types of social relationships will keep you sane and mentally uplifted.

3.4.5 Use Technology Responsibly

This is my second time referring to this, so you can see it’s important.

However, the context this time is different. Previously I mentioned how technology can disrupt your sleep; however it can also affect your mental health β€” it can make you compare yourself with others (low self-esteem, depression), expose you to too much or negative information (stress and anxiety), put in you in a state of digital isolation with no face-to-face contact (loneliness), expose you to cyber-bullying (fear, stress and anxiety).

So the best course of action is to use technology in intelligent ways that avoid putting you in similar situations.

3.4.6 Relaxing Activities

There are many relaxation techniques and activities that can lower your stress and anxiety. Consult this extensive list of solutions I created, and explore the ones that resonate the most with you.

3.4.7 Limit Stimulants

Stimulants like caffeine, nicotine, and certain medications can cause anxiety and insomnia. Always use common sense before making changes that require medical oversight.

3.4.8 Have a Routine

Having a daily routine can provide a sense of normality. This routine can prioritize sleep, setting aside time for relaxing activities, and taking regular breaks. This can help in managing stress and anxiety.

Even if these routines can’t be maintained during those times when the workload is higher, this should not be used as an excuse for not having them at all.

4. Final Thoughts

Many schools are very demanding and it shows in their student’s sleep. That isn’t showing signs of changing any time soon, so students must be proactive to guarantee their health is maintained. This becomes especially relevant considering that things will not improve when students reach the workforce.

So it pays off to learn how to survive the modern world without losing hours of sleep. And it’s best to learn these things sooner than later.

It will also improve school performance, opening doors to a brighter future.

If you’re a student reading this, I hope the solutions provided in this article can help you improve your sleep, and again, give LucidLink a try β€” from what we’ve seen, it can really help!

Wishing you all the best. Take care and sleep well πŸ’€

πŸŒ™ If you enjoy sleep-related content, join our community! Subscribe to our newsletter, follow us on your favorite social media, and join us for a real-time chat on Discord β˜€

Micael L. Nobre

Sound Engineering for Sleep @ Drowzee Analytics

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