Student Health 101: The Science of Sleep

By on October 22, 2008

By Sharon Tully

As a student at University of Louisville, you have access to read Student Health 101, the online health and wellness magazine just for college students. Please check your email to access Student Health 101 online, share your opinions and even enter to win an iPod!

You can also access the latest issue online at

It’s no secret that many college students get less than the optimal seven to nine hours of sleep needed, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). In a recent Student Health 101 survey, over 48% of respondents said they frequently or occasionally had trouble sleeping. Stephanie Kane, a senior at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, says she often has trouble sleeping due to general anxiety about the tasks she must accomplish the next day.

“There is no ‘average’ for the hours of sleep I get during the semester; that’s the problem,” she says. “Drowsiness during class keeps me from taking strong notes, and exhaustion during tests keeps me from performing well. Since I actually enjoy class, I’m upset that being tired zaps my usual enthusiasm for learning.”

Studies also show that a lack of sleep affects the memory. “Sleep in terms of memory is not like the bank,” says Dr. Matthew Walker, principal investigator at the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. “You cannot accumulate a debt and hope to pay it off at a later point in time. It is an all or nothing event.”

“If you are sleep deprived,” he says, “your brain seems to be about 40% worse at making new memories. That’s the difference between an A and a D grade!”

Many students are not aware of the significant mental and physical effects sleep deprivation has on their bodies. According to, stress and anxiety levels increase during periods of tiredness, which could lead to depression. Weight gain can also be a side effect because a lack of sleep tends to lower a person’s metabolism and increase appetite.

The positive benefits of a good night’s sleep are endless, especially for college students. Not only will you wake up feeling well-rested, you will also feel a significant improvement in your mood and memory. To catch some quality Zzz’s, the NSF recommends having a regular exercise schedule, avoiding caffeine, and establishing a relaxing routine before bed.


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