Subtracting just one hour of sleep each night from what your body is used to can cause your brain to function in the same way it would if you were drunk.
By Mai Amalie Bak
It’s five o’clock on a Monday evening, and since 8 a.m. yesterday, Randy Kenyon has gotten exactly two hours of sleep. You wouldn’t know it from looking at him—his eyes are alert, his smile is sincere, and his voice is upbeat. The only indication of any sort of fatigue is the way he sits in his chair: leaning back with his shoulders slightly slumped.
As a junior at the University of Oregon, Kenyon has a lot on his plate: he’s the president of both Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and the University of Oregon’s men’s water polo club, a part-time employee at a dining hall on campus, a devoted friend, and a biochemistry major with dreams of becoming a doctor.
While Kenyon represents an extreme, many students like him find that the pressure of building a competitive resumé, working to earn money, maintaining good grades, and enjoying a social life as a college student leaves almost no time to rest. Cuts have to be made somewhere, and sleep often seems to be the first to go. “Of all the priorities I have in my life, sleep is just the most disposable,” says Kenyon.
Sleep deprivation is just as much a symptom as it is a cause of stress in the lives of college students across the country. A 2014 study by the Department of Neurology at the University of Michigan reported that sleep deprivation during the critical time between adolescence and adulthood, which, for many, occurs while attending college, can impact academic performance and mood regulation, especially when paired with the use of substances such as alcohol. Research from The National Sleep Foundation even suggests that driving while tired is just as dangerous as driving while drunk. So, why is a factor that seems to be widely understood to be essential to a healthy lifestyle so often forgotten when giving advice to students about to go off to college?
Adria Godon-Bynum, the Health Promotion Manager with the University of Oregon’s Wellness Center, believes that it is due to its lack of a directly intriguing quality. “It’s not a very sexy issue, which is why I think it doesn’t get a lot of play, nationally. We can’t point to a tangible thing and say, ‘This is the culprit,’ whereas, with drugs and alcohol, we can vilify those things.”
While the issue is difficult to push to the front of the agenda, many students do discover on their own that not sleeping can have serious impacts on their ability to perform to the best of their ability. Although Kenyon consciously chooses his priorities, he does admit that his choice to limit his sleep takes a toll on both his physical and mental state. “It has a huge impact on my life. If I was able to sleep eight hours every night, I would be extremely fit and I’d probably have a 4.0 GPA,” Kenyon says. “I know a lot of people who only need six hours of sleep every night, but I’m not even one of those people. I really do need eight hours; I just don’t get them.”
College life, especially as a freshman, can be almost overwhelming in its consistent presentation of exciting opportunities. Whether it’s getting late night pizza with your new hall mates, checking out that frat party everyone’s talking about, or joining five different on-campus clubs because you can’t pick just one, it can be easy to not even realize that you’re cutting an hour or two a night.
In addition to making sure to identify the fact that you might not be getting enough sleep, making an effort to plan ahead when it comes to schoolwork and understanding that pulling all-nighters to study actually does more harm than good is crucial. If the stress really starts to pile up and it begins to feel like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day, it can be helpful to remember the piece of advice Godon-Bynum claims to be her most valuable: “The general rule that I would encourage students to remember is that it’s okay to say, ‘no.’ It can be so hard when you first come here, living in the residence halls and wanting to do all of these cool new things, but it doesn’t have to be every night.”