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Effects of Sleep Deprivation on College Students

female student reading at night

Poor Quality Sleep is Affecting Students' Mental Health


Being a student is never a piece of cake, especially for college students. Several things call for your attention as a student, one of which is getting good grades.

Home works, tests, and exams put pressure on students to devote a significant part of their nights to studying. That's expected since there's hardly ever enough time to do that by day, especially since there are classes and other extracurricular activities to attend to. But the consequences are undesirable.

Lack of sleep puts college students at risk of depression and high stress levels. The research was published in the peer-reviewed journal Annals of Human Biology, 

Sleep Deprivation Linked to Depression and Stress in College Students 

Sleep deprivation can cause several problems for college students, including lower academic persomance as it's difficult to pay attention in class while sleepy, and mental health challenges like stress and anxiety. More than 65.5% of college students have poor-quality sleep associated with mental health challenges, including severe stress. The research also revealed that students who suffer from depression are four times as likely to be sleep deprived. 

The researchers carried out the study on 1,113 full-time university students aged 16 to 25 at the Federal University of Mato Grosso, Brazil. 55% of them experienced excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), a major problem that constitutes stress.

Interestingly, something else is quite notable about the research: sleep deprivation and excessive daytime sleepiness are typically more prevalent in women.

How Does Lack of Sleep Affect School Performance

College students usually stay up at night studying hard and doing assignments, and lack of sleeep can impair attention and working memory, leading to poor school performance. So if you've been been depriving yourself of sleep to get better grades, you might want to reconsider.

Of course, the university system doesn't make it easy. Students have to handle many courses within a semester amid other stressors (personal/social stress, family stress, financial stress, etc.) that fight for their time. Course demands -- the academic stressor -- put pressure on the students, compelling them to actively use as much of their nighttime as possible. Sometimes students wake up at irregular night hours to read; other times, they stay up late, leading to sleep disorders. Notably, sleep disorder is a major deterrent to mental health and daytime productivity, including academic performance.

So, highly intense course demands may be doing more harm than good to students.

The researchers are now calling on universities to encourage not only long hours of studying but also promote positive sleep habits and mental health. The importance of quality sleep can never be overemphasized.

According to lead researcher Dr. Paulo Rodrigues, "Sleep disorders are especially harmful for college students because they're associated with several negative effects on academic life," including loss of attention and comprehension.

It's therefore crucial for administrative heads of universities to find ways to make course demands more convenient for students. Also, they should encourage activities that promote good sleeping habits in students and would be beneficial to their mental health.


Many previous studies have discovered inadequate sleep and EDS in university students, but most didn't dive into the specific mental health issues they cause. The findings from this new research can help universities and students become even more productive now more than ever.

Bottom Line

Living away from home for the first time is enough stressor on its own. You're worried about several things that weren't a problem before now. What to eat, whether to attend that social activity, how to manage time, when to clean your dorm or apartment, and you're left with little time to study.

Perhaps you've resorted to using stimulants that impair sleep to stay awake at night. It may look beneficial at that moment but is detrimental to your mental health and academic performance in the long run.

Proper time management and sorting out priorities may help. If you're already battling depression and stress, there's help waiting.

Talk to a therapist today.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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