Sleep deprivation hurts college students' mental health, study finds

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Experts say women are affected more often by these mental health struggles than men

A new study conducted by researchers from the Taylor & Francis Group explored how students’ mental health may be affected by their sleeping patterns. According to their findings, sleep deprivation could be linked to mental health struggles for college students.

“Sleep disorders are especially harmful for college students because they’re associated with several negative effects on academic life. These include failures in attention and perception, high absenteeism rate, and sometimes dropping out of the course,” said researcher Dr. Paulo Rodrigues.

“The university environment offers greater exposure to factors that may compromise sleep habits such as academic stress and social life. It’s crucial to evaluate and monitor sleep habits, mental health, and the quality of life of students to reduce the risk of developing other chronic diseases.” 

How does sleep impact mental health?

For the study, the researchers surveyed over 1,100 students between the ages of 16 and 25 from the Federal University of Mato Grosso in Brazil. The group reported on everything from their socioeconomic status and body mass indices to their sleeping habits and excessive daytime sleepiness. 

The researchers found a connection between students who had poor sleeping habits and those who struggled with depression-related symptoms and higher stress levels. It was unclear if sleep impacted mental health or vice versa, but the relationship between the two was strong. 

The team also found that what the students were studying and their gender could have a greater impact on their sleep and mental health. Students in health or science fields and female students were more likely to struggle with mental health and sleep. 

The researchers explained that there could be several factors that prevent college students from getting quality sleep on a consistent basis. They noted that college students are typically on a very inconsistent schedule that often keeps them awake into the night. They also tend to consume caffeine and use other stimulants, which can have an impact on healthy sleeping patterns.

Moving forward, the researchers are calling on universities to step in and do their part to help prioritize the importance of healthy sleeping habits among college students. 

“University managers should plan the implementation of institutional actions and policies,” Rodrigues said. “This is to stimulate the development of activities that promote good sleep habits and benefit students’ mental health.”

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