An unmade, empty bed with sunlight shining on it from the window. This represents the importance of sleep
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The Importance of Sleep for College Students

06.22.2023 • 8 min read

Jennifer Rivera

Subject Matter Expert

Up your college success by knowing the importance of sleep for students. Learn the signs and drawbacks of sleep deprivation as well as tips to improve sleep.

In This Article

  1. Benefits of Good Sleep

  2. How Much Sleep Do Students Need?

  3. What Are the Consequences of Sleep Deprivation?

  4. 6 Signs of Chronic Sleep Deprivation

  5. 9 Tips for Improving Your Sleep

  6. What To Do If You Continue With Sleeping Issues

Imagine what your days would be like if you felt less stressed and more focused.

What if you had sustained energy throughout the day? So much that you’re able to get all those tasks done that have been piling up on your to-do list? Not only get them done, but feel at ease while doing them.

As a college student, you might think it would take some kind of miracle or finding Harry Potter’s wand somewhere.

Actually, all you really need to get more done and improve your mood is sleep. That’s right, sleep!

In this article, we will cover the many benefits of good rest and how to get it.

Benefits of Good Sleep

Good sleep has so many benefits! According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, getting consistent, quality sleep improves your brain performance, mood, and even your physical health.

Here are a few pros to getting quality sleep:

  • Promote happiness

  • Increase focus

  • Increased resilience

  • Promote memory consolidation (long-term memory)

  • Decrease obesity and risk of type 2 diabetes

  • Decrease high blood pressure

  • Improve your ability to cope with stress

  • Improve creativity and problem-solving

How Much Sleep Do Students Need?

More than 70% of college students get less than 8 hours of sleep every night. While everyone is different with sleep, on average, students need 7 to 9 hours per night for the best effects of sleep. Simply put, many students do not get adequate sleep.

Why is sleep a challenge for so many students? Between cramming for classes, working a part-time college job, and engaging in a social life, students tend to put sleep as a lower priority.

Students go to bed late and get up early—consistently. Here are some reasons this happens:

Work Hours

Many college students work.

Up to 43% of full-time students work, and 81% of part-time undergraduate students. Of those full-time undergraduates, 17% work 20-34 hours per week, and 10% work over 35 hours per week.

When you work and go to school, balancing your time to get enough sleep can be challenging. Since it’s tough to create a consistent routine in college, often sleep becomes sporadic and irregular, leading to insufficient rest. For students who work full-time and go to school full-time, the balance becomes even harder—and sleep is one of the first things to give.


Cell phones and computers emit blue light, which can simulate daylight. This confuses the body’s circadian system into thinking it’s not time to go to sleep. Computer or cell phone use up to 1 hour before bed is highly correlated to poor sleep.

Caffeine and Energy Drinks

Sodas and energy drinks are designed to keep you awake and energized. But sometimes they do their jobs too well. It can be hard to go to sleep when you’re ready because caffeine can stay in your system for up to 12 hours.

The large amounts of caffeine and sugar found in many common energy drinks have been linked to a host of health issues. These include sleep problems, anxiety, and serious heart conditions.


College students sometimes use other stimulants (such as prescription drugs like ADHD medications) to stay awake and study. But these can also have unforeseen consequences.

Studies have shown that unprescribed use of these kinds of stimulants can cause increases in body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure, keeping you awake instead of getting the rest your body needs.

The importance of sleep can’t be overstated! Getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night over the course of the semester creates a strong sleep cycle. This helps you feel more refreshed on a regular basis—even on those few days when you don’t get the right amount of sleep.

Getting the right amount of sleep will help prevent drowsiness and avoid sleep deprivation, which can have severe negative consequences.

What Are the Consequences of Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation (inadequate quantity or quality of sleep) can be detrimental—not just to your academics but to your overall health. Here are some of the consequences of sleep deprivation:

Increased Stress Levels

Even a couple of days of sleep deprivation can increase stress, which can affect your memory and impair your judgment. Through this impaired judgment, you might become more reactive or make choices you’ll regret later.

Long-term sleep deprivation can lead to long-term stress on your body and cause mental health issues.

Decreased Athletic Performance

Sleep deprivation can also impact your athletic performance. If you participate in an endurance sport (think running or cycling) or a sport that requires bursts of speed (think football or weight lifting), you can expect to see a drop in performance—even after losing only a small amount of sleep.

When you begin to get an adequate amount of sleep again, you can then expect to see improvements in your athletic performance.

Weight Gain

Of all the effects of sleep deprivation, weight gain is the one that tends to surprise people the most.

Many people think that there is a link between sleep and weight because the longer you are awake, the more likely you are to eat. The truth is that not getting adequate sleep leads to a hormone imbalance. This causes sleep-deprived people to crave more calorie-dense foods. It may even increase insulin resistance, which can lead to weight gain.

Cardiovascular Disease

Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can also affect your heart.

Lack of sleep can affect the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates your “fight or flight” response. Those who experienced sleep deprivation saw an increase in activity in this system, which had the potential to increase blood pressure.

Similarly, those with sleep deprivation also saw an increase in heart rate, which can lead to other cardiovascular problems as well.

6 Signs of Chronic Sleep Deprivation

1. Daytime Fatigue

If you feel exhausted at multiple points during the day with no exact cause, you may be suffering from chronic sleep deprivation. Daytime sleepiness can also lead to things like impaired driving and lowered academic success.

2. Irritability

When you find yourself snapping at people for no specific reason, or the tiniest things set you off, take a look at your sleeping habits. This can be a sign of sleep deprivation.

3. Mood Changes

When friends and family continually ask if you’re OK or if something is wrong, your sleep habits may be to blame. Chronic sleep deprivation can cause your mood to change over time, and others are bound to notice.

4. Problems Coping With Stress

While we all have times when we want to lock ourselves in a closet and make everything go away, think about how often you feel that way. If you find yourself frequently unable to cope with stress, check out your sleep habits. Chronic sleep deprivation may be to blame.

5. Problems Focusing, Concentrating, & Remembering

If you can’t find your keys (again), and this is an uncommon thing for you, try upping your healthy sleep habits. Sleep deprivation can affect both short-term and long-term memory.

The good news is, once you start getting adequate sleep, your memory will improve. Keep in mind that your brain is resilient, but if you don’t give it time to rest and process information, it can’t store the details it needs to.

6. Brain Fog

You know that thing you can’t think of. You’ve been trying to put your finger on it for the last 10 minutes. It’s something you’ve known forever—common knowledge for you. But you can’t seem to pull it out of your head.

This is brain fog: the inability to think clearly or focus. While there can be many causes for this, sleep deprivation is one.

9 Tips for Improving Your Sleep

Luckily, you can try to improve your sleep habits in many ways:

1. Limit your caffeine intake in the evening

Some studies show that sleep can be disrupted if you have caffeine for as long as 12 hours before sleeping. Try to limit those energy drinks and trips to Starbucks in the afternoon. The more time you can give yourself between drinking caffeine and sleeping, the better.

2. Avoid using electronics for up to one hour before bedtime

Oh, that nasty blue light. Powering down an hour before you hit the hay can improve your sleep. And make sure you keep those electronic devices (like TV, phone, and video games) out of your bedroom.

3. Exercise during the day

Good exercise can help you sleep better! This doesn’t have to be running a marathon or hitting a PR on the weight bench. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise can help you sleep better that night.

4. Avoid intense exercise 2 hours before bed

While exercise is good, doing a hard run or a vigorous cardio session right before bed will actually work against you. Exercising right before bed can raise endorphins and your core temperature—both of which can make sleep difficult.

5. Establish a sleep schedule

Giving your body signals that it’s sleep time is essential to break bad sleep habits. One way you can do that is going to bed at the same time every night. It’s not so much about when you go to sleep (assuming you’re getting 7-9 hours)—it’s your consistency over time. A regular bedtime can be a game-changer for your sleep quality.

6. Establish a relaxing routine before bedtime

Just like going to bed at the same time can trigger your body to want to sleep, so can other things you build into your sleep routine. Things like having a warm (decaffeinated!) beverage, doing a skincare routine, brushing your teeth, and reading a book.

It doesn’t have to be all of these, but having a few things you consistently do can cue your body to get ready for sleep.

7. Take a warm bath or shower

A warm bath or shower before you go to bed will reduce your body’s core temperature. This helps promote the production of melatonin, a chemical that helps you sleep.

8. Keep track of your sleep

Whether you use an app or a journal, keep track of your sleep to help you detect other things that are helping you get a good night’s sleep…or not. Once you start to see patterns, you can make changes to improve your sleep.

9. Dim the lights

Light is one of the biggest culprits of bad sleep habits. This is why electronics can be so harmful to good sleep. Draw the curtains, and turn out the lights. Make sure no electronics are emitting light—even an alarm clock. (You can turn it away from the bed).

If you’re sleeping when the sun is up, use light-blocking shades on the windows to make sure your sleep environment is as dark as possible.

What To Do If You Continue With Sleeping Issues

If after trying multiple tips (for more than a few nights) you are still having issues, it might be time to call in a sleep expert. You may be suffering from a sleep disorder, like sleep apnea, or your anxiety may need to be treated by a professional so you can get the rest you need. Make sure to go to your doctor and ask for help.

For most people, incorporating some of these tips will result in a better night's sleep, which will help your mental health, physical health, and academic performance. By taking the time now to focus on getting better sleep, you will be setting yourself up for success for freshman year and on.

Remember, sleep is one of the most powerful medicines you can give your body. College is hard enough without the added stress of not enough sleep. The benefits of adequate sleep are numerous, and you will reap the rewards in all areas of your life.

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