Avoiding the Scourge of the All-Nighter
The Fall semester is well under way at colleges throughout the area. Students are settling in and studying a little harder and a little longer. And that means that they’ll soon be pulling their first all-nighters of the new school year.
And that’s bad.
Because college students need sleep, and they need it more than they probably realize.
College health officials are finally coming around to the idea that healthy sleep means better classroom performance and better grades. Some studies have found that students who get adequate sleep average a full letter grade higher than those who don't. In fact, research shows that MRIs of sleep-deprived students show that their brains have pretty much shut down.
A lack of sleep can mirror the symptoms of ADHD, and many medical experts believe that the rapid increase in the number of reported ADHD cases is really due to widespread sleep deprivation.
“Lack of sleep affects memory and cognition,” says Vatsala Ramprasad, M.D., medical director of the Crozer-Keystone Pediatric Sleep Center at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. “It may also make them more prone to impulsivity and poor judgment, including substance abuse. I am not sure that adolescents realize that lack of sleep affects them profoundly.”
There’s data that shows that the problem is worse than it was 40 or 50 years ago. In the 1960s, college students typically got eight hours of sleep a night. Today, the average is closer to six hours a night, which means that a lot of students are functioning with a clinical sleep disorder. The likely culprit for the increase in sleepless hours is technology, with 24/7 access to information, friends and frivolous online time activities.
A lot of colleges are working hard to try to educate students on the importance of getting good sleep.
“The more awareness there is of the problem, the better the chances of remediation,” Ramprasad says. “But it’s more than just a student or students, it has to be a change of culture. Kids go from a structured 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. schedule, to ‘I can go to class whenever I choose.’”
Pulling an all-nighter is considered by many a part of college, part of growing up. It’s seen as macho or heroic to be able to get by on just a few hours of sleep. But now, people are beginning to realize that a lack of sleep isn’t heroic; it’s just not smart.
“My mantra now is that good sleep hygiene is like dental hygiene,” Ramprasad says. “It needs to be practiced all the time.”
Crozer-Keystone offers a multidisciplinary approach to the identification and treatment of all types of sleep disorders. CKHS also offers skilled care for pediatric sleep disorders through the Crozer-Keystone Pediatric Sleep Center at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. For more information or to make an appointment, visit http://sleepcenters.crozerkeystone.org or call 1-888-SLEEP-03 (1-888-753-3703).