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How Colleges Are Encouraging Students To Get More Sleep

If America is a sleep-deprived nation, then the canary in the coal mine is our college students, who notoriously party into the wee hours and then stagger into early morning classes, or else pull all-nighters to complete projects and essays or study for exams. Though some may consider this a time-honored tradition, others see it as a health hazard that puts students at risk for a bevy of conditions that have been associated with sleep deprivation, including obesity, depression, diabetes, sleep apnea, and cardiovascular problems. In an effort to curb the tendency and educate students about the benefits and importance of getting a good night’s sleep, many colleges are taking extraordinary measures to raise awareness.

At the University of California-Los Angeles, the administration recently sponsored “Sleep Week”, a series of sleep education events that included setting up a temporary nap room in the campus library, free yoga and mindful awareness sessions to teach relaxation tips, free drop-in meditation sessions, and fifteen minute Sleep Well Assessments” designed to show students that turning off electronic devices at night can help improve their sleep quality. Professors were also asked to participate in educational sessions that informed them of the various negative effects that lack of sleep might be having on their students so that they could address the issue more knowledgeably. According to Kendra Knudsen, a coordinator with the UCLA Mind Well initiative, “There’s a weird pride in certain students when they pull all-nighters. They need to re-prioritize, if they don’t have time for sleep, looking at their schedule and seeing what is really important.”

UCLA is not alone in their efforts. Their neighbor to the northwest, the University of Alaska-Anchorage, hosted a similar event to educate students as to how incremental changes to their sleep habits could yield sizeable results, and on the East Coast Georgetown University has dedicated its efforts to the topic for the past several years, hanging posters encouraging students to put themselves first when it comes to their physical and mental well-being. Included in those efforts are signs that specifically address the issue of sleep and sleep deprivation. According to Laura Marcucci, Social Norms Program Coordinator at Georgetown’s Student Health Services, “It’s about, ‘How can I thrive and do well in this environment and also take care of myself.’” Though the administration understands students’ desires to have a rewarding and full schedule, “If it’s at the expense of your physical and emotional health, that’s when it starts to be a problem.”

A study conducted last year by University of Alabama health science professor Adam Knowlden revealed that the student population is twice as likely to be sleep deprived as the general population. “One of the main differences,” he explains, “is that college students’ ability to get sufficient sleep is more within their control, whereas the general adult population is more likely to be dealing with medical sleep disorders.” His thoughts are echoed by University of Michigan neurology professor Shelley D. Hershner, who says, “A lot of students realize they are sleepy, but I don’t think they understand all of the ramifications. When we are sleep deprived, we don’t judge our own ability well.” But with poor sleep habits providing a strong predictor of academic problems according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, perhaps students should be paying closer attention.

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