A popular T-shirt from my college days boasted, “I do more after 2 a.m. than most people do all day.” Based on the results of a new study, it seems that shirt would be a bestseller on campuses today.
Researchers wanted to assess the sleep patterns of college students to see if they caught more zzzs than high schoolers, who are notoriously sleep deprived. To find out, they surveyed 1,125 undergrads between age 17 and 24 at a large private university in the Midwest. Participants answered questions about their bedtimes and wake-up times, their use of caffeine, alcohol and drugs, and the likelihood that they would doze off under various circumstances, such as watching TV or waiting for a traffic light to turn green.
It turns out that enrolling in college doesn’t translate into more sleep for young adults, though it does shift bedtimes and wake times later. On average, college students slept from 12:17 a.m. to 8:02 a.m. on school days and from 1:44 a.m. to 10:08 a.m. on weekends, while high school seniors slumbered from 11:02 p.m. to 6:31 a.m. on school days and from 12:45 pm to 9:51 a.m. on weekends, according to a study published this week in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Only 29.4% of college students got at least eight hours of sleep each night – the amount considered healthy. Twenty-five percent got fewer than 6.5 hours per night. One in five students said they had pulled an all-nighter at least once in the previous month, and 35% said they stayed up till 3 a.m. at least once a week. Not surprisingly then, 15% said they fell asleep in class at least once a week.
Poor sleepers were more than twice as likely to use over-the-counter or prescription medications to help them stay awake. They were also twice as likely to use alcohol to help them fall asleep, the study found. Students who said they drank when it was time to hit the hay consumed an average of 21 alcoholic beverages each week, compared with 12 for other college students.
One in five students blamed stress – about schoolwork or life in general – for disrupting their sleep at least once a week. In general, poor sleep was associated with moods such as anger, confusion, depression, fatigue and tension, though the researchers said it wasn’t possible to tell whether those moods were the cause or the consequence of sleepiness.
-- Karen Kaplan
Photo: This sleepy student managed to show up for an algebra class at Long Beach City College. Credit: Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times