College students face significant sleep problems, study finds

College student skimp on sleep

According to a study by researchers at Brown University and the University of Arizona, many college students think their sleep quality is better than it is.

The study, published in the current issue of the Journal of American College Health, also suggests that campus-wide media campaigns costing less than $2,500 could help nearly 10 percent of students sleep better.

"Students report a lot of issues with sleep quality and disturbed sleep," co-author Kathryn Orzech, postdoctoral fellow in sleep research at Brown University, said in a statement. Common sleep disruptions according to Orzech include roommates, dorm noise, fraternity activities, and academic stress.

The study also suggests that discussing sleep problems could serve as a gateway for college health providers to address more sensitive issues such as mental health.

"Student sleep--or lack thereof--is a health issue that hasn't received the attention it deserves, especially when you begin to consider how interconnected sleep is to other aspects of health," co-author David Salafsky, director of health promotion and preventive services at the University of Arizona, said in a statement.

The study, which looked at online surveys completed by thousands of University of Arizona students, found that students frequently scored higher than 5, the level that indicates poor sleep, on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index.

Male students scored 6.38 on average, while female students scored 6.69. The typical student bedtime was 12:40am, students generally took 20 to 30 minutes to fall asleep, and they often woke up between 8 and 8:30am. As a result, many students got less than seven hours of sleep each night.

And while seven out of 10 students surveyed described their sleep as "fairly good" or better, students acknowledged in follow-up interviews that poor sleep undermined their memory, concentration, class attendance, mood and enthusiasm.

Raising sleep awareness

Study co-authors David Salafsky and Lee Ann Hamilton launched a campus-wide media campaign at the University of Arizona that included posters, student newspaper ads, and a newsletter, that offered information on the health benefits of sleep along with tips on sleeping better.

Of the 971 students who responded to questions about the media campaign, 90 said it helped them sleep better--their Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index score dropped, they went to bed earlier, they fell asleep faster, and they stayed asleep longer. "From a practitioner standpoint, we learned that a relatively modest health campaign can yield results," Salafsky said.

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