Sleep Deprivation in College Students

By: external image Sleep-Deprivation-2.jpgCaitlin, Amanda, Tasha, Zack (Group One)

"The "all-nighter" is a rite of passage among many college students who pressed competing schedules (and, let's be honest, the desire to have fun) sometimes ignore the need to sleep for 24 hours or more, in order to study for an exam or a meet a paper deadline. A new study completed by June Pilcher and Amy Walters suggests that students depriving themselves of sleep have lowered cognitive functioning the next day."
-Journal of American College Health (November 2007)

How many times have you chosen to stay up past 12 a.m. to work on an assignment for class in the past week? The past month? Did you feel as if you were exerting a lot of energy for the assignment and were then surprised at a poor grade?
Did you feel strange the next day, or did you sleep-in to make up for the sleep you lost the night before?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, then you're not alone; most college students would answer yes to all of these questions at some point in their academic career. We've stayed up many times, some of us are even used to it and some prefer to work on homework late at night; but researchers have been compiling evidence that forgoing sleep may negatively affect how well we do on our assignments. Lacking a proper night's sleep can impact our ability to do our very best and even cause our brains to play tricks on us by thinking that more effort produces a better quality paper at 2 a.m. A noteworthy experiment suggests evidence that this may in fact be the case.

The Experiment

How Sleep Deprivation Hurts College Students
Experimenters: June J. Pilcher and Amy S. Walters

Forty four college-age participants were tested on the effects of sleep deprivation using the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal, the Profile of Mood States, the Cognitive Interference Questionnaire, and the Psychological Variables Questionnaire. The testing took place in a sleep laboratory, where the two groups could be monitored by lab technicians. Twenty three of the participants were sleep deprived and twenty one of the participants had approximately 8 hours of sleep. The sleep deprived participants were requested to get up early and stay awake for the entire day and night. The tests then occured between 10 p.m. and 11 a.m. the next morning.

The Tests

The Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal measured the participants cognitive performance or how fast and how well they were thinking; the Profile of Mood States measured the participants current mood at the time of the tasks; the Cognitive Interference Questionnaire measured the number of off-task cognitions or when the participants were distracted from their assignment; and the Psychological Variables Questionnaire measured self-reported estimates of effort, concentration, and performance.

The Things They Tested

  1. Does sleep loss lead to changes in self reported levels of psychological variables related to actual performance?
  2. Does sleep deprivation significantly alter mood states that may be related to performance?
  3. Does sleep deprivation alters people's ability to make an accurate assessment of their concentration, effort, and estimated performance?

Experiment Summary

"College students are not aware of the extent to which sleep deprivation impairs their ability to complete cognitive tasks successfully because they consistently overrate their concentration and effort as well their estimated performance." (Pilcher & Walters, 2007)

The study concluded that the sleep deprived participants made more errors than non sleep deprived individuals, but reported that they felt they did well because of the effort they spent on the assignment whereas the non sleep deprived group did not rate their performance as highly. Researchers suggest that the brain compensates for sleep deprivation by working harder to maintain functions which then decreases the of quality of the work. A sleep deprived brain also experiences more psychological processes; the sleep deprived group had more instances of feeling tension, anxiety, confusion, and anger than non sleep deprived group.
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What Does This Mean?

First, let's define sleep deprivation: the condition of not getting enough sleep. This can either be recurring or a one-time thing, but in college students it tends to be a voluntary thing. They often choose to go without sleep if it means accomplishing a task on their never ending to-do list.
  • College students who are determined to complete their tasks on very little sleep do not consider the damages that they are doing to their bodies as well as their performance on their work. They feel awful the next day and their performance on the things that they work on while in this state is a lower quality than what it normally would have been if they had received enough sleep.
  • Over time, this can be harmful to your body's functioning and can mess up your sleep schedule.
  • In addition to a decrease in your performance, you may also experience mood swings and other psychological occurances.

5 Typical Effects of Sleep Deprivation

  1. Decreased Alertness and Ability to Maintain Focus
    Carrying a sizable sleep debt throughout the day can drastically decrease productivity. Fatigue will compromise your attention and as a result cognitive performance will suffer. Learning, memory, and creativity are frequently hampered by a large sleep debt.
  2. Mood Swings
    It's not uncommon for sleep deprived individuals to be subject to extreme emotions and mood swings. A very tired person who is laughing uncontrollably at one moment may be crying or yelling angrily a few minutes later.
  3. Energy and Motivation
    A decrease in energy and motivation is probably the most noticeable consequence of sleep deprivation. Individuals who have not received sufficient sleep will feel lethargic and uninspired to work.
  4. Control, Coordination, and Impulsiveness
    A lack of sleep is often associated with a hindrance of bodily control. Tired individuals often feel enhanced physical impulses, such as an otherwise inexplicable desire to eat.
  5. Pain
    Extreme sleep deprivation can literally cause a degree of physical pain, such as headaches.

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Each person has a daily requirement of sleep. A typical college student needs at least 8 hours of sleep to feel rested and alert, give or take an hour. If you are unable to meet this requirement your body will compensate and attempt to regulate this using an internal process called sleep homeostasis. This is what makes you feel drowsy when you've lost sleep or makes you feel not sleepy when you've gained additional sleep.
If sleep deprivation continues and you do not regain the sleep lost, you will accumulate what is known as sleep debt. Sleep debt increases each day in which you fail to get your daily requirement of sleep. To feel fully rested, you must "repay the debt" hour for hour. For example, if you lose one hour of sleep, to get out of your debt, you must sleep an additional hour.

What You Can Do To Prevent Sleep Deprivation

  • Get 8 hours of sleep or more.
  • Try and complete your assignments 2 hours before you go to bed.
    (This will give your mind enough time to wind down from the stress of schoolwork and prevent racing thoughts which could keep you awake.)
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • Drink a soothing beverage.
  • Take short (1 hour) naps.

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Photo Credits (In order):
mattressclubcanada.com, andertoons.com, xkcd.com, universitypros.com
Read More: http://www.end-your-sleep-deprivation.com/effects-of-sleep-deprivation.html#ixzz1b9oviyOHHow Sleep Debt Hurts College Students Article