Why Students Need to Sleep More


Lack of sleep is a serious issue that is overlooked by many college students. (Courtesy of Instagram)

With midterm season having wound down, and finals season just over the horizon, it’s the time of year when a common refrain is being heard across campus: “I got no sleep last night.” It’s an all-too-common problem at schools across the country, and one that is all too often met with little to no concern. The sleep habits of university students are cause for major worry, however, and it’s necessary for us to have a conversation about how to fix this dangerous problem. 

Most studies agree that college-aged students need to be getting anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep per night (eight is usually listed as the optimal number). Despite that, studies have found that more than 50% of college students get less than the minimum of seven hours, and 80% of students say sleep loss negatively impacts their academic performance. 

The sleep deprivation crisis on college campuses is abysmal, and should be considered one of the central health issues facing young people today. And yet, while a recommendation to sleep well is usually mentioned during orientation, universities are not doing enough to address one of the most dangerous health crises of our age.

If you’re a person who doesn’t get enough sleep who’s reading this article, you’ll probably be tempted to brush me off. “I’m too busy,” you’ll say. “I’ll catch up on sleep later. I’ve gotten used to it.” Sleep may seem like a luxury for the less busy, or one of those things like going to the gym, that you always mean to get around to, but never can quite fit in. Sleep, however, is one of the most crucial parts of maintaining health, and failing to do so can have lifelong negative consequences. 

If you’re sleeping less in order to improve your academic career, then you’re actually doing yourself more harm than good. In the short-term, lack of sleep causes memory issues, making people more likely to forget things. Furthermore, sleep deprivation can lead to decreased performance and alertness, making it harder to stay focused in class. It also makes it more difficult to solve problems, make connections and just learn in general. It can also cause issues with cognition, meaning that staying up all night cramming for an exam the next morning merely ensures that your brain won’t be functioning at its top peak during the test. 

You might claim that your body has adjusted to the lack of sleep, and that the aforementioned cognitive decline doesn’t apply to you. Guess what? That’s a consequence of sleep deprivation as well. One study found that people who were consistently getting less than seven hours of sleep frequently ranked themselves as performing at their normal capacity, even when tests proved that their mental state was continuing to decline. 

You might be tempted to just “catch up” on sleep, either by sleeping in on the weekends or during breaks — but that doesn’t really work. According to one study, for every missed hour of sleep, it takes four days of proper sleep to catch up. So while you could compensate for missing sleep every once in a while, catching up doesn’t work on a frequent basis. 

Worried about your mental health? Lack of sleep can exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues, including depression and mood swings. It also increases your stress responsivity, meaning you’re more likely to get stressed over problems. People who sleep less tend to be more irritable and less motivated. They are more likely to trigger impulsive behavior, anxiety, paranoia and suicidal thoughts. 

And those are just the short-term impacts. More and more research has identified the negative impacts of lack of sleep on long-term health. Sleep deprivation weakens your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to infectious diseases like COVID-19 or the flu. Doctors have discovered that improper sleep habits put people more at risk for obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease. In one famous study, research examining civil servants in Great Britain showed that individuals who cut their sleep down to below five hours per night doubled their risk of death from all causes. 

Fordham has made strides in the past few years to better educate their students about the risks of alcohol and drug consumption. They have taken steps to improve access to mental health services. Sleep deprivation, however, is the next frontier the university needs to tackle. We need to understand what it is about our culture that pressures students to risk both their physical and mental health and wellbeing by sleeping less. Students need to be more informed about the risks of a sleep-deprived lifestyle, and need to have the resources necessary to fix things.

If you are one of those people who is consistently getting less than seven hours per night, then it’s imperative you at least attempt to make some lifestyle changes to try to get the minimum amount of sleep required. It may seem like an insurmountable challenge, but there may be nothing more important on which you try to improve in your time here at Fordham. Your health is worth the effort. 

Michael Sluck, FCRH ’24, is a political science and computer science major from Verona, N.J.