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Sleep Deprivation in College Students

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 2307 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Sleep is a big issue for students in college, but is not always thought of by college psychologists or by the general population. We all heard about students having to skip nights of sleep in order to be able to finish studying or doing some project, but no one talks about how unhealthy that really is. These habit is very prejudicial and can affect grades in a negative way. Studying how sleep deprivation is affecting students is a good way to spread awareness to then try to solve this issue.


Sleep is important for human existence for many reasons. Sleep enables restoratives processes like protein synthesis, replenish energy, rest muscles, and reorganize synapses. One of the vital roles of sleep is to help us solidify and consolidate memories. According to sleepfoundation.org, sleep is also necessary for retaining more information and performing better on memory tasks. What is much thought of and wrongly is that a person can sleep more hours on the weekend to make up for the sleep deprivation during the week, but it does not work like that. Humans need to have a consistent sleep habit with healthy routines that allow them to meet everydays’ necessary sleep and keep on top of life’s challenges

Much is talked about the importance of sleep hygiene, but what are the factor impacting the most on our sleep quality? Pillows, bedroom temperature, bedroom darkness, sheets, partner snoring, allergies, children sharing bed, pets sharing bed, and partner movement are the ones cited by sleepfoundation.org.

All of this are important issues, but they are not taking into consideration when students choose to/ have to be deprived of a good night of sleep because they have more important responsibilities and not enough time to complete them. In one of the researches it is shown that 70% of all students had clinically poor sleep quality, meaning not only the hours slept were not sufficient but the quality of that sleep is not good enough to actually restorate. Sleep deprived students can lead to lower academic performances, which in turn can influence their future. Besides lowering our academic performance it can also affect our ability to perform cognitive tasks, and can even generate other problems. The major cause for accidents by workers and poor performance by college students are a consequence of inadequate sleep. One night of sleep deprivation can activate the immune system making your body react to it as if you were ill.

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All of this just proves how important sleep is, especially for college students who are been constantly graded on their performance and ability. Furthermore, three studies were analyzed with that idea in mind and all of them came to one common conclusion: sleep is essential to the life of a college student and sleep deprivation can lead to several negative consequences.

Sleep Quality and Academic Performance in University Students

 A study (Gilbert & Weaver, 2010) was made to determine if sleep deprivation had any consequences on lower academic performance in nondepressed college students. A total of 557 undergraduate first-year psychology students participated, with only 468 participants that remained after they screened out depressed students. From this sample of 468 individuals, 35.7% (N = 167) were male and 64.3% (N = 301) were female.

 Participants completed a brief demographic survey with questions about age, gender, GPA and the number of courses categorized as “dropped”, “withdrawn”, or “incomplete”. They used the Goldberg Depression Inventory (GDI), to detect the severity of depressive symptomatology (Goldberg, 1993). Participants with GDI scores greater than or equal to 25 were removed from analysis. Also the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), was used to measure sleep quality over the last 4 weeks (Buysse, Reynolds, Monk, Berman, & Kupfer, 1989).

Final analyses were conducted with only 415 remaining participants, the ones who provided enough information for a Global Sleep Quality (GSQ) score and who provided their GPA information. The results showed a significant negative correlation between GSQ and GPA, which indicates that lower sleep quality is associated with lower academic performance. This correlation was significant between females (r = -.161, p = .004), but not for males.This study’s results supports their hypothesis that poor sleep quality is associated with lower academic performance in nondepressed students.

Besides that, the participants GSD scores showed that 70% of their sample had clinically poor sleep quality. This accentuates the importance of taking sleep deprivation in consideration when evaluating student’s problems. The average number of hours slept was not that low, it was 7.2 hours, a little less than the 8 hours expected, but still the number of students with clinically poor sleep quality reported was significantly big, indicating that the quality of sleep is as important as quantity and should also be considered.

Even without the negative correlation between GSQ and GPA, this study proved that there is a significant sleep quality disturbance among nondepressed college students, which could affect them in other deleterious cognitive, social, and medical effects. With this conclusion, they discuss the importance of college psychologists to routinely assess the sleep habits of all clients, especially if they are having academic difficulties.

How Sleep Deprivation Affects Psychological Variables

 The previous study was correlational, meaning it could be a result of indirect effect. In this next study we are going to see how sleep deprivation can alter the ability of performing cognitive tasks, which could then result in a lower academic performance. Pilcher and Walters (1997) had three specific issues in mind with this study. First, if sleep loss changes the self-reported levels of psychological variables related to actual performance. Second, to determine if sleep deprivation alters mood states. And finally to determine if sleep deprivation alters people’s’ ability to make an accurate assessment of their concentration, effort, and estimated performance.

 Participants were all from psychology classes in different levels. There was 44 (26 women and 18 men) students who completed the study. The Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (WG) was used to measure cognitive performance. The WG was chosen because of the challenges cognitively and the similarity to normal testing conditions for college students, which was administered with a 40-minute time limit. Self-report scales to measure mood, off-task cognitions, effort, concentration, and estimated performance was used as well. To assess mood, the Profile of Mood States (POMS) was used.

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 The study had 2 groups of participants assigned randomly, with 23 of them on the sleep deprived group and the 21 on the nondeprived sleep group. The sleep deprived participants were limited to 24 hours of sleep deprivation, supervised by two research assistants in the laboratory, while the nondeprived went to sleep on their own beds. In the morning both groups had to answer a short questionnaire about sleep times and items consumed since 2 days before. After that, all participants completed the POMS scale, followed by the WG. Then they completed a survey assessing self-reported effort, concentration, and estimated performance in relation to the WG.

 The results supported the hypothesis that sleep deprived participants performed worse on the WG than the nondeprived did. But in contrast to that, the sleep deprived group self-reported higher levels of concentration to complete the tasks than the nondeprived group. This accentuate an even bigger problem: the students who are being sleep deprived do not realise how negatively that is impacting them and lowering their academic performance.

 Pilcher and Walters (1997) discuss how that the sleep deprived reported higher levels of concentration could be an attempt to overcome the performance decrements caused by lack of sleep. But the higher concentration is not enough to compensate because the group’s actual performance was worse.

Gray’s Personality Dimensions and Reasons for Voluntary Sleep Deprivation

 Another thing to analyse here is who are the students choosing to be sleep deprived and what are their reasons for doing so. So a study conducted by Andersz and Bargiel-Matusiewicz (2018) researched the relationship between Behavioral Activation System (BAS)/ Behavioral Inhibition System (BIS) activity and reasons for voluntary sleep deprivation among college students.

 This study was composed of 223 Polish college students, where 136 were female and 87 were male. All participants were full-time students under 35 years. The BIS/BAS Scales (Carver and White, 1994) were used with the Polish adaptation by Wytykowska (Muller and Wytykowaska, 2005). The Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) was the instrument to self-report sleep quality during the last month before the study. Also a survey of frequency and reasons for voluntary sleep deprivation was applied, to figure it out if it was a conscious decision or not.

 The results shows a massive sleep problem in that population, with 97.3% of participants having reported regularly sleep deprivation in order to engage in other activities. Also the sleep quality was slightly below average, especially among women. We see it here again a difference of sleep deprivation and quality between men and women.

Andersz and Bargiel-Matusiewicz further discuss how shorter sleep can be associated with lower satisfaction with life and other problems (Segura-Jimenes et al., 2015). The reasons for sleep deprivation are more complex, they include pressure on academic performance and availability of psychoactive substances and the use of new technology (Zhang et al., 2017).


Just as predicted, all three studies analysed confirm that sleep deprivation not only is constant in the life of college students, but also are very prejudicial and not much thought of. Most students are still not aware of the consequences they are dealing with from being sleep deprived, but still do it anyway out of necessity. Problems like excessive school work and not enough time to do all of them are involved in this situation.

One thing that is important for the students is that the college psychologists starts screening them for sleep deprivation and sleep quality before or independently of a depression diagnose, since sleep can alter moods and how the person will view life and its problems.

It is also important to spread awareness of the consequences of sleep deprived students to the students, professors, family and everyone involved in their lives. Since the distortion of self-reported levels of concentration and performance was detected, it is clear that there is still some type of ignorance of how much this problem affect the lives of students.


  • Andersz, Nina, and Bargiel-Matusiewicz, Kamilla (2018). Gray’s Personality Dimensions and Reasons for Voluntary Sleep Deprivations Among College Students. Front. Psychol. 9:2316.
  • Buysse, D., Reyonds, C., Monk, T., Berman, S., & Kupfer, D. (1989). The Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index: A new instrument for psychiatric practice and research. Psychiatry Research, 28, 193-213.
  • Carver, C.S., and White, T. L. (1994). Behavioral inhibition, behavioral activation, and affective responses to impending reward and punishment: the BIS/BAS scales. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 67, 319-333.
  • Gilbert, Steven P., and Weaver, Cameron C. (2010). Sleep Quality and Academic Performance in University Students: A Wake-Up Call for College Psychologists. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 24, 295–306.
  • Goldberg, I. (1993). Questions and answers about depression and its treatment. Philadelphia: Charles Press
  • Kalat, J. W. (2014). Biological Psychology. Boston, MA, USA: Cengage Learning.
  • Muller, J. M., and Wytykowska, A. M. (2005). Psychometric properties and validation of a polish adaptation of carver and White’s BIS/BAS scales. Pers. Individ. Differ. 39, 795-805.
  • Pilcher, June J., and Amy S. Walters (1997). How Sleep Deprivation Affects Psychological Variables Related to College Students Cognitive Performance. Journal of American College Health, 46:3, 121–126.
  • Segura-Jimenes, V., Carbonell-Baeza, A., Keating, X. D., and Ruiz, J. R. (2015). Association of sleep patterns with psychological positive health and health complaints in children and adolescents. Qaul. Life Res. 24, 885-895.
  • What Makes a Good Night’s Sleep. (n.d.). Retrieved MAy 1, 2019, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/what-makes-good-nights-sleep
  • Zhang, M. W. B., Tran, B. X., Huong, L. T., Hinh, N. D., Nguyen, H. L. T., Tho, T. D., et al. (2017). Internet addiction and sleep quality among vietnamese youths. Asian J. Psychiatry. 52, 15-20.


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