Wake Up, College Students: Here’s The Science On Sleep

Sleep is something we all love, so why do we constantly put it last on our ever-lengthening list of priorities? You may have heard the sayings, “health is wealth” or “health is happiness.” Well, research has absolutely proven that sleep is key to health and happiness.

More Sleep = Better Life Decisions

Although pop culture claims otherwise, there is more to college life than going to parties, binge-watching TV and doing schoolwork. College students care about being good people and building a rewarding life – it’s a big part of who we are, how we feel about ourselves, and how we understand our place in the universe. And guess what? Proper sleep is a huge piece of that puzzle. In a 2011 study on sleep and unethical behavior, researchers found that sleep quantity is positively related to self-control and negatively related to unethical behavior. In other words, getting enough sleep helps us assess and make better decisions for ourselves – and those around us.

More Sleep = Improved Quality of Life

I think it’s safe to say we all want a sense of wellbeing and happiness. As explained in an article on the emotional brain and sleep, “deprivation of sleep makes us more sensitive to emotional and stressful stimuli and events in particular.” The author notes that our REM-sleep directly affects our next day mood and emotion. Think about it: our days are a constant torrent of emotional events. And it has been proven that sleep determines the way we receive, perceive and cope with these events.

More Sleep = Better Grades

Our foremost purpose in college is to get an education and perform academically to the best of our abilities. Why, then, does the population of college students, around the world, get the least amount of sleep? I’m sure you’ve heard it from your parents, your teachers, and your mentors: “Get a good night’s rest before your midterm,” or “You might think the all-nighter is going to help you do better, but it won’t.” Whether we feel that the all-nighter will give us that edge or not, our teachers, parents, and mentors are correct. I can’t stress how closely connected academic performance and cognitive ability are to quality of sleep. Believe me, I tried researching the benefits of all-nighters and coffee binges! According to the literature, “Sleep loss is frequently associated with poor declarative and procedural learning in students.” When sleep was restricted, neurocognitive and academic performance declined. Period.

More Sleep Deprivation = Greater Risk of Chronic Disease 

Did you know that Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, arthritis, and metabolic syndromes (obesity, blood pressure elevation, high fasting serum concentrations of triglycerides and glucose, and low serum high-density lipoprotein cholesterol) are all significantly related to quantity and quality of sleep? Take one study that restricted sleep to four hours per night for one week in young, normal weight men. In a single week, these men increased body weight and exhibited endocrine and metabolic changes consistent with the presence of metabolic syndrome! Imagine what more than one week of sleep deprivation can do.

Who is with Me?

Imagine a world of happy, emotionally well-adjusted, morally inclined, over-achieving students. Start the revolution on your campus by getting more sleep!#SleepRevolution #UCLALiveWell

This post is part of our series on sleep culture on college campuses. To join the conversation and share your own story, please email our Director of College Outreach Abby Williams directly at And you can find out here if the #SleepRevolution College Tour will be visiting your campus, and learn how you can get involved. If your college is not one of the colleges already on our tour and you want it to be, please get in touch with Abby.

Phillip Cox is a 4th year Bioengineering major and blogger for the Eat Well Pod within the Healthy Campus Initiative.


7 Strategies to Optimize Your Sleep Routine

Co-authored by David Baron, MD and the UCLA MindWell Team

The results are in: One in three Americans does not get enough sleep. This is the latest finding in a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that asked almost half a million adult Americans how many hours of sleep, on average, they get in a 24-hour period.

While precise individual sleep needs vary, Experts at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend at least seven hours of sleep each night for adults. According to the new study, only about 65% of us are meeting this recommendation. 

Sleep Matters

First of all, why does it matter? Who needs sleep anyway? You’ve heard people say, “I can rest when I’m dead.” That’s true, but not getting enough sleep can actually shorten your lifespan.

Sleeping less than seven hours is associated with higher stress, anxiety and depression, poorer cognitive function (sexual function too), obesity, difficulty controlling high blood pressure, and even cardiovascular risks, not to mention loss of creativity and alertness.

And here’s something you might not have thought of: motor vehicle accidents. The number one cause of daytime sleepiness is poor quality or insufficient nighttime sleep. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports 846 fatalities in 2014 and an estimated average of 83,000 car crashes per year between 2005-2009 that were drowsy-driving related. One study found that people who drive after being awake for 17 to 19 hours performed worse than those with a blood alcohol level of .05 percent.

7 Strategies to Sleep Smarter

So what’s a work-hard/play-hard, multitasking, over-extended, not-so-well-rested person to do?

We’ve got two words for you: sleep smarter. You may not have a lot of time for sleeping, but you can sleep smarter by optimizing your sleep routine.

1. Cover the basics: Restful sleep generally requires a reasonably comfortable bed in a dark, quiet location that isn’t too hot or too cold. Research suggests an environmental temperature of about 65 degrees is best if sleeping with pajamas and light bedding.
2. Stick to a schedule: Try to consider your sleep time like any other commitment in your busy day. Go to bed and wake up on time!
3. Be smart about screen time: Avoid using electronics (yes, smartphones and tablets, too) late at night as blue-green wavelengths can keep you more alert. Life hack: You can also install f.lux on your devices to remove blue light and adjust your screen according to the time of day.
4. Eat and exercise earlier: Avoid eating large meals late at night, and try to stick to consistent meal times throughout the day. In addition, vigorous exercise within 2-3 hours of bedtime revs you up and makes it harder to fall asleep, while moderate exercise in the late afternoon or early evening can help you sleep.
5. Skip the nightcap: Alcohol can also help you fall asleep but will often wake you up a few hours later (it has a two phase effect on the brain: first sedating, then activating). It’s the same deal with marijuana, which also disrupts normal sleep stage progression (i.e. not as much R.E.M. or Stage IV deep sleep).
6. Make bed a sacred space: Save your bed for sleeping and snuggling. Try not to eat, watch TV, text, or talk on the phone in bed. Note to students: Never study in bed.
7. Get sleepy and try again: If you have trouble falling asleep in 15 to 30 minutes, get out of bed and try doing a mellow activity like reading until you feel sleepy.

The science is clear that healthy sleep is critical for a healthy life. Give these strategies a try before you contact your health care provider about sleeping medications. Your doctor will likely want to talk to you about this approach before writing the prescription. And they should. Sedatives stop working pretty quickly and are generally addictive. In most cases, you can learn to get to sleep and get enough rest without them.

If you don’t believe us, sleep on it.

Get more tips and information from the UCLA Sleep Well Campaign.

Dr. David Baron is the executive director of the UCLA Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center.