In order to stay on top of academic success and mental health, sleep is a vital part of any college student’s self care routine. The importance of sleep is often overlooked as students try to juggle school, work and a social life which are all important to a well-rounded college experience. Though overlooked, sleep is the ingredient that will ensure success in all these other areas.

Optimizing sleep isn’t just about the amount of time you sleep, but the consistency of your sleep. Keeping bedtime and wake-up windows consistent day to day are also key. If sleep times are inconsistent, it can produce the same detrimental effects as not sleeping enough.

Am I sleep deprived?

In general, sleep deprivation is defined as getting less than seven hours of sleep a night on a regular basis. Doing this more than once a week adds up. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, after two weeks of sleeping six hours or less a night, students feel as bad and perform as poorly as someone who has gone without sleep for 48 hours. The optimal amount of sleep needed per night varies from person to person, but this is a good rule of thumb. Unfortunately, as a college student reading this, you might be thinking, “There’s no way I sleep that much.” 

 The effects of sleep deprivation can be so broad and common that they’re often hard to trace back to sleep deprivation. They can manifest physically, like weight gain and headaches. Or they can be mental and emotional, like brain fog or mood changes. 

Importance of sleep for success in college

A long Saturday night here and there won’t make a difference. It’s prolonged lack of sleep that becomes a problem. In whatever way symptoms manifest, sleep deprivation gets in the way of you being your best. Here are some ways missing out on sleep can lead to poor academic performance and prevent you from making the most of your college experience. 

Memory issues:

Lack of sleep can affect your memory capacity. This puts you at an obvious disadvantage when it comes to academic performance, especially when it requires memorization. Cognitive function decreases significantly after just one night of missing out on sleep. This is why everyone tells you cramming the night before a test will hurt you in the long run. You’ve heard it a million times, but it’s backed by science. Lack of sleep can also impact your ability to focus and your creativity, both things that hinder academic performance.

Weakened immune system:

Lack of sleep weakens your body’s ability to fight viruses like common colds and the flu. It slows processes involved in white blood cell production, which are the cells that fight off viruses. You can’t make the most of your college experience if you’re sick all the time. You’ll wind up having to miss classes and risk falling behind, causing more stress and feeding the cycle of sleep deprivation. Not only that, it’s hard to prioritize your social well being when you’re sick. A big factor in the importance of sleep is its power to keep you healthy.

Weight gain:

This is a more minor concern, but can still derail students’ health and fitness efforts. Sleep is an important factor in regulating cortisol, which is a stress hormone linked to weight gain. Sleep deprivation causes an imbalance of the appetite-controlling hormones leptin and ghrelin. This leads to an increase in appetite and a decrease in satiety, which means more mindless snacking and eating massive portions. Also, lack of sleep can significantly affect motivation to exercise, preventing progress toward your workout goals.

Mental and emotional issues:

If sleep deprivation continues long enough, it can manifest in ways as serious as anxiety and depression. A study found that people with insomnia are 10 times more likely to have clinical depression and 17 times more likely to have clinical anxiety. These conditions can both be debilitating and require intensive treatment. Taking care of your mental state throughout the already stressful college experience is key to being your best in all areas. 

It can be tempting to push sleep to the back burner as you’re pulled between countless commitments and goals in college. But the importance of sleep as a student is a big deal. On nights you can get an extra hour or two, it’s in your best interest to prioritize that. It can be tempting to stay up late, but consider the risk vs. reward for prolonged sleep deprivation. You need sleep to simply function as a student, let alone thrive. Without enough sleep, you can’t be your best at whatever you do.