Not getting enough sleep during finals week? It’s actually way worse than you might think

As seen originally published in The UNW Examiner.


Failing to get enough sleep can be detrimental to your health. When in college, sleep is especially a struggle: students find themselves busy balancing credits, meeting academic deadlines and keeping up with the demands of work and social activities. On campus at The University of Northwestern – St. Paul, Health Services and Counseling Services are no strangers to the topic of insomnia and sleep deprivation. They come in contact with large amounts of students who suffer from related issues and exhaustion.

UNW Health Services RN, Alison Putz, shared, “We see a lot of kids with sleep patterns that are really off and sometimes it has to do with schedules, physical or mental health issues, substances such as caffeine, energy drinks, alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription medications or their decision making. If you need an alarm clock to wake you up, you are not getting enough sleep. That’s probably almost 100 percent of the students on this campus. If students are dozing and tired during the day, they are not getting enough sleep.”

“Ideally, students should get seven to nine hours of sleep each night, but no less than seven. Students who get less than that will pay the price physically, mentally and academically,” said Putz. “But it’s not just about getting enough hours of sleep—it’s actually getting a regular pattern of sleep and having a set sleep schedule Monday through Monday.”

Brown University stated that at least 11 percent of students report good sleep. College students who do not go to bed or wake up at consistent times every day are also more likely to have lower grades, according to the journal Scientific Reports. Putz shared there are many things that can contribute to an individual’s inability to sleep, including underlying chemical imbalances which can lead to anxiety and depression. Not getting enough sleep will ultimately make these worse.

Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkley, shared in a Tech Insider video the troubling impacts of not getting enough sleep. He reported: “The link between a lack of sleep and cancer is now so strong that recently the World Health Organization decided to classify any form of nighttime shift work as a probable carcinogen. In other words, jobs may induce cancer because of a disruption of sleep rate rhythms. If you are getting six hours of sleep or less, you have a 200 percent increased risk of having a fatal heart attack or stroke in your lifetime.”

UNW students reflected on their sleeping habits and issues. Junior marketing major Keeley Gray shared, “On average, I get about six hours of sleep. The biggest challenge is winding down enough to fall asleep because I am so busy thinking about everything I should be doing instead of sleeping. But not getting enough sleep affects my performance in school and work. In order to have the time to work four jobs and take 16 credits, I have to figure out which assignments I can skip or put in less work, in order to get enough sleep. Often, I end up so tired at work or in class that I have a super hard time focusing.”

Senior media productions major Hunter Armstrong said he averages about five to six hours of sleep per night. “A lack of sleep affects how my day goes. When I don’t get enough sleep, it makes it extremely challenging to get out of bed in the mornings and go to class. Especially on days when mental health struggles are difficult, adding a lack of sleep to that just completely drains every last bit of energy or motivation to do anything.”

Sophomore business administration major Jessica Phillips shared, “If you are involved in an average amount of activities with 18 credits, it is going to be hard to get eight hours of sleep. I average six to seven and a half hours each night. However, I find when I do get eight or more hours or sleep, I am able to spend more time with God, pour into others more effectively and live more fully. It’s shocking how much more I enjoy my classes when I have had a good night of sleep. I love to learn, but lack of sleep causes me to care less sometimes about the effort I put forward academically.”

Assistant Director of Counseling Services at UNW and Licensed Psychologist Joseph Biancardi suggested ways students can build good sleeping habits and sleep hygiene. He shared that an individual should end screen time an hour and a half before bed, exercise often (before 2p.m.) and not have a TV where they sleep. If students are having consistent troubles sleeping, counseling services on campus can help them diagnose the underlying issue and find a solution to the problem.

Recent graduate, Lindsay Kalsow, shared how she managed to get about eight hours of sleep in college while managing her work and school load. She said, “When I get six hours of sleep, I get cranky, so I made it a priority. I learned to enjoy mornings. If I didn’t have a 7:50 a.m. or 8 a.m., I would get up and instead of scrolling the internet, I would do homework.”

Kalsow also shared some tips:

  • “Don’t play games on your phone before bed. You can easily lose 30 or more minutes getting sucked into a stupid game.”
  • “Don’t eat late at night because food = fuel = energy. You don’t need energy to sleep.”
  • “Dorm life can be noisy (yes, Moyer boys I’m talking about you). Use a white noise app to help drown some of that out while you are trying to sleep.”





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