Why Aren’t You Getting Enough Sleep?

By Oliver Gladfelter

Sleep. Everyone’s always talking about it. “I was up so late last night.” “I only got like 4 hours of sleep.” “Yeah I’m probably gonna be up all night tonight.” All common phrases a Denison student may hear while walking across A-Quad. In fact, there’s almost a sense of pride among those not getting any sleep, something to brag about. But how much sleep are Denison students really getting?

As Figure 1 shows, the ‘sleep situation’ on campus isn’t too bad – the average is 6.6 hours of sleep a night, which is undoubtedly less than recommended, but about on par with most other college students. Keep in mind students were asked how many hours they sleep on a typical night, so while the late-nights are definitely common, these numbers reflect on-the-fly math to come up with daily averages.

sleep-histogram

So what shapes how much sleep a Denison student gets? Most would blame a lack of sleep on piles of homework and being too involved, however the picture is more complex than that. Using answers collected from surveying the student body in the Fall of 2015, I was able to explore factors that affect how much sleep we get. The appeal of excitement, alcohol consumption, and class year all affect how much sleep students are getting. And the factors that don’t affect sleep are just as interesting.

Sleeping is linked to an element of personality — students who indicated being complex and liking new and exciting experiences (“openness to experience”) tend to sleep much less than those who favor routine and rule-following. Students disposed to excitement average about 6.2 hours of sleep a night, while students preferring routine typically sleep about an hour longer. Openness to experience is also linked to risk taking so another way to explain sleep in this case is that students who are more accepting of risk will be more willing to miss an hour or two.

sleep-by-factors

It is no surprise that drinking more alcoholic beverages on an average night of drinking is linked to more sleep. Those who indicated typically drinking only one alcoholic beverage sleep an average of 6 hours, while those who indicated typically drinking ten alcoholic beverages sleep an average of an hour longer a night. Let’s just say certain lifestyles may require more rest than others.

Finally, a student’s class year is linked to how much a student is sleeping. A Denisonian will sleep the most their first year, averaging 6.8 hours a night. After that, we see a steady decline to 6.5 hours a night. This pattern reflects the mix of relationships and responsibilities that grow with time on the hill and inhibit sleep (despite the fact that older students tend to drink more).

If any of these explanations are surprising to you, what’s even more surprising are the factors that don’t seem to affect sleep. One might expect that students who spend a lot of time doing homework and studying sleep less, but they actually get just as much sleep as students who do hardly any homework. The same can be said for extra-curricular involvement on campus: the hyper-involved and the under-involved are sleeping equal amounts. Students who aren’t spending time on extracurriculars or homework aren’t necessarily sleeping more – they’re filling that time with other pursuits.

Sleep is linked to a crucial component of a student’s college experience – their GPA. Students who consistently reach the recommended 8+ hours of sleep boast higher GPAs than those struggling to get enough sleep (.2 GPA points over those who get 4 hours). Drinking more, not surprisingly, undercuts the benefits of sleep on GPA. Moreover, because higher GPAs tend to correlate with high satisfaction of the Denison experience, sleep may be a necessary part of making your college experience as satisfactory as possible.

The fact that average sleep levels aren’t affected by the amount of time spent doing homework, the percent of assigned homework a student actually does, or even their level of campus involvement suggests that there’s a diverse range of pulls on Denison students that keeps them from getting precious sleep. Maybe a student stays up late one night because they were spending time at the gym, or The Bandersnatch, or a Vail Series event – all important parts of the Denison experience which students may value over sleep. But the relationship between sleep and GPA reminds us that each semester is a long haul, and you have to play the long game in order to be successful. Pulling those all-nighters might not be as effective as you think, especially if they hurt your performance later in the semester. Hence it’s important to find a balance between everything Denison has to offer and getting enough sleep so that you’re not a zombie by the end of the semester.

Oliver Gladfelter is a huge advocate of procrastination and spends most of his time finding new ways to waste time (and not sleep- ed.). He also studies political science on the side.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. BethAnn Zambella says:

    Two things. One: you reflect that students who drink say they sleep more, but alcohol is not conducive to good quality sleep, and usually causes the drinker, who may certainly “pass out,” to wake up in the middle of the night and not get good sleep from then on. Two: sleep is extremely important for the transmission of information from short-term memory into long-term memory–our goal for learning. You can’t learn if you don’t sleep!

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  2. Oliver Gladfelter says:

    Hi Bethann, thanks for your comment! I agree that alcohol can disrupt the benefits of sleep, and that the relationship between the two variables can be complex. However I’d like to point out that for this study, the data came from questions which asked about averages; one question asked “How much sleep do you get on an average night?,” and another separate question asked “On an average night of drinking, how much alcoholic beverages do you consume?” While someone might argue that it’s hard to get a good night of sleep after drinking a lot, unfortunately we didn’t ask students how much sleep they typically get after a night of drinking, so I have no data on that front. The relationship I found, rather, focused on averages: regardless of how many nights a week you’re drinking, if you drink more quantity-wise than other students, you most likely sleep more on average throughout the entire week. Interesting stuff!
    And I can definitely agree that I have a harder time studying productively when I’m running low on sleep. The data agrees too; getting 8+ hours a night seems to positively impact a student’s GPA!

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