Visit a college campus long after midnight, and chances are you’ll find plenty of students partying, watching movies, writing papers, and cramming for the next day’s exams. College students’ newfound freedom, continual temptations, academic pressures, and inexperience in juggling priorities make the college years practically synonymous with sleep deprivation.
According to one study, only 11 percent of college students consistently get enough sleep, while 73 percent experience at least occasional sleep issues. An American College Health Association survey found that 40 percent of students get inadequate sleep an average of five days a week.
Poor sleep can adversely affect health, memory, and learning and lead to lower grades and possibly much worse. Research shows that students who get six or fewer hours of sleep a night have a lower grade-point average than those who get at least eight hours. College-age drivers have a higher rate of late-night crashes caused by fatigue, drowsiness, and, in many cases, also alcohol.
During sleep, our brain organizes, sorts, and stores what we have learned and experienced that day, unconsciously processing the new information and weeding out what’s irrelevant. Without adequate sleep, we impair our ability to memorize, recall, and think clearly.
As a concerned parent, how can you help your college student sleep better? Try to start before they leave the nest by developing sound sleep habits. Here are some tips.
- Model good sleep habits at home. While they are still in junior high and high school, teach them the value of getting their needed quota of sleep and ensuring they maintain consistent sleep hours.
- Talk about it. Ask your student about sleep habits and pose open-ended questions, like “How much sleep are you getting each night?” Help him or her reach their own conclusions about their evening routines and figure out how they might better unwind from the day and get an extra hour or two.
- Help your student create an environment that supports sleeping. Lighting, sound, bedding, and other factors influence sleep quality and usually are controllable. Sleep masks, earplugs, sound machines and apps, and other tools can help them tune out roommates and other distractions.
- Know what your student is sleeping on. Today’s bedding market offers an overwhelming number of choices. One new resource for the health-conscious is CertiPUR-US®, a not-for-profit certification program for the polyurethane foam used in bedding (and upholstered furniture). Certified foam is made without PBDEs, TDCPP, or TCEP (“Tris”) flame retardants, ozone depleters, formaldehyde, lead, mercury, or other heavy metals, and phthalates regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The foam is also tested to be low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) for indoor air quality.
- Get your student help if he or she needs it. Sleep is serious business. If your student is struggling with insomnia, or has other sleep-related problems, encourage him or her to see a health professional. Uncommon, but serious sleep orders such as narcolepsy tend to surface between the ages of 15 to 25 years of age.