Wake Up! Sleep Is a Big Deal

It’s easy to understand how sleep can be difficult in college. In many cases, you are sharing a living space for the first time. The environment may be brighter or noisier than home. There always seems to be activity going on and FOMO can take over judgment. Your class schedule in high school may have been consistent whereas college classes may start at different times depending upon the day of the week. Your workload and other commitments may have also changed so that your time for completing your work has changed too. Finally, lifestyle choices and behaviors like fitness and caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana consumption can all affect sleep. 

Regardless, sleep is essential. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adolescents ages 18-25 need about 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Quantity of sleep is just one part of the sleep equation. Quality of sleep, consistency of sleep and proper sleep hygiene are also key. 

The Sleep Struggle Is Real

Data from the ACHA-NCHA Spring 2018 survey period [pdf], which surveyed 88,178 students at 140 schools, shows that within the last 12 months:

  • 21.8% students reported sleep difficulties as a factor affecting their individual academic performance.
  • 32.9% of students reported that their sleep difficulties have been traumatic or very difficult to handle.
  • “Sleep difficulties” was reported as being the 3rd most common impediment to academic performance.
  • Only anxiety and stress were reported more frequently than sleep difficulties in negatively impacting academic performance.

You Need Your Zzz’s to Get Those A’s

Sleep is an essential function that protects our physical, emotional, and cognitive health. We benefit greatly from sleep. 

Physically, sleep gives us energy for our daily tasks or performance in athletic activities. It lowers risk for chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. It helps boost our immune systems to prevent minor illnesses like colds and flu and allows us to recover from illnesses when we get them. Proper sleep helps people maintain a healthier body weight and also helps us grow. 

Emotionally, sleep affects our mood and how we feel about ourselves and can help with stress management. Lack of sleep can contribute to feelings of anxiety or depressed mood. 

Cognitively, sleep facilitates the process in which your brain stores and processes the information you learn or experience each day. With classes, it helps you digest information being taught or discussed and build connections to information you are reading. For exams it helps you with storing information you are studying into your long-term memory for recall. It helps you maintain focus, minimize distractions and attend to tasks like taking an exam or writing a paper. Finally, it helps you with your acuity in reaction times and productivity in completing projects or items on your to do list. Bottom line, you need sleep in order to be a successful student! 

All-Nighters Are Not the Answer

While “pulling an all-nighter” to study for an exam or complete a paper may seem like a collegiate rite of passage, it is important to keep in mind that doing so compromises the sleep you need to be a successful student. In summary, all-nighters may yield diminished returns.


  • Limit your body’s ability to process and store information essential for learning, memory and recall
  • Impact your ability to focus
  • Slows down your productivity
  • Produce more stress
  • Affect your mood and energy levels for days after

If you find yourself needing to pull an all-nighter, it might be helpful to evaluate why you are in that predicament. Assessing your time management skills could be helpful.