Sleep deprivation affects learning, focus, memory


It is the start of a new semester, and for many that means being sleep-deprived more often than rested. Everyone has excuses for why they stay up late into the night before classes. Maybe they have a big test to study for or perhaps that “Star Trek” fan-fiction is calling their name. No matter the reason, not getting enough sleep can lead to consequences greater than pushed snooze buttons and tired eyelids.

According to Medical News Today, school stress keeps 68 percent of students awake after their heads hit the pillow. Only 30 percent of students sleep eight hours a night, which is the average recommended amount for young adults. Twenty percent of students pull an all-nighter at least once a month.

Many students find themselves in the 68 percent not getting a full night’s sleep, or at least getting a little less sleep than they would like. Lacey Evans, senior in social science, said that her nightly average has been hovering around six hours since the semester started. She admitted feeling a bit sleep deprived at times. To fight grogginess and get through classes, she said she often turns to a common fix.

“I drink a lot of coffee,” Evans said.

Other students may be getting adequate sleep this early in the semester, but anticipate a decrease as the weather warms up. Lauren Komer, freshman in biology, said her sleeping time, “usually gets worse as the semester goes on.” Komer does not drink coffee to stay awake, but sometimes relies on the caffeine in soda to boost her energy.

While drinking soda or coffee can provide energy, Jenny Yuen, health educator at Lafene Health Center, said that some students will attempt to mix other substances with caffeine to combat sleep deprivation, which can lead to negative consequences.

“When you mix drugs and alcohol, it’s never a good thing,” Yuen said.

According to Matthew Edlund, director for the Center for Circadian Medicine in a blog for the Huffington Post, “Alcohol plus sleeping pills can kill you.” He added, “The combination can produce horrific accidents and falls, increase the incident of anxiety and depression and decrease the ability to function the next day.”

Chronic sleep deprivation can do more than make students feel sleepy. Lack of sleep has many negative effects, especially for college students. According to a 2010 WedMD article by Camille Peri, a lack of sleep “impairs attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning and problem solving.” The article also said that sleep deprivation can negatively affect memory as well.

Yuen suggested setting up a regular sleep schedule that is reasonable to stick to. When you deviate from the schedule, it is important to return to it as quickly as possible. She said that when it comes to sleep, it is quality—not quantity—that matters. That means that sleeping extra hours to catch up does not benefit you as much as returning to your regular schedule.

As an alternative to caffeine, which is only a short term solution, Yuen recommends 15-30 minute power naps in the middle of the day in order to refresh yourself. She points out that going to sleep when you feel tired at night is a great way to figure out a proper sleep schedule.

Many students can implement these strategies in order to deal with sleep deprivation, but if you have serious trouble sleeping you may have a more severe sleeping disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea. If you feel that you are having problems sleeping, contact the Lafene Health Center.

For students who just can’t pull themselves away from the computer long enough to sleep properly, consider all the negative consequences of sleep deprivation, as well as the positive effects of getting more sleeping. So get some extra shut-eye and feel happier, healthier and more alert doing something that’s pretty enjoyable anyway.