Clearly one of the most prevalent and important issues university students face today is maintaining good health in order to be able to properly function in their busy day to day life. One of the most important but overlooked health priorities for young adults is sleep and through simple observation, it is easy to pinpoint that sleep problems are a common issue that university students struggle with and is affecting their day to day life.
The university experience, more specifically the struggles of it are clearly highlighted in internet meme culture, where observations around sleep deprivation are one of the most common subjects to these jokes and discussion.
This issue stands out as something I want to explore more as I have personally been affected by problems surrounding sleep, including not getting the required number of hours, irregular sleep schedules, sleeping in, prolonged napping and experiencing exhaustion during the day, which has definitely affected my concentration and motivation, especially working a casual night job. Considering I’ve been doing regular 8:30am starts since the commencement of my degree, I’ve been exposed to a culture of exhaustion and coffee obsession with breaks during these early four-hour practicals have been commonly named “coffee breaks”.
Through my research, I want to generate surveys to investigate what is causing students to have bad sleeping habits and the effects of these habits on their daily life and health. By finding the causes of problem sleeping, I’m hoping to be able to pinpoint what we can do as students to improve our sleeping habits, leading to improvement of our health, academic performance and daily function. I’ll be able to find the causes of poor quality sleep by finding correlation between certain habits and aspects of a student’s life compared to the type of sleep they get as a result.
Factors I want to deeply explore in order to identify these causes include if students live away from home, employment, including how much they work and at what time of day, how much university workload they have, how much they socialise and if this includes unhealthy habits including binge drinking, and health habits including diet and exercise. In relation to this, I then want to investigate the quality sleep they get including the time range they sleep, for how long, if they regularly wake up during sleep, have nightmares, struggle to get out of bed and if they find themselves forcing themselves to stay up late in order to complete assessments and study.
Many studies have been conducted to research the relationship between sleeping problems and young university students. A study completed by Angelika A. Schlarb, Merle Claßen, Julia Grünwald and Claus Vögele discovered a close correlation between sleep disturbance and mental strain in students. They identified causes of sleep issues included huge lifestyle changes including moving into new living, social, physical and working environments, more responsibility, and changes in schedules due to varied university timetables in combination with employment. These factors resulted in students being at high risk of developing sleep problems including falling to sleep, night awakenings, nightmares and daylight impairment, rising late, shorter sleep duration, non-restorative sleep and development of irregular sleeping patterns. These problems are associated with lower academic motivation, lower self-efficiency and mental problems, especially as these sleep disturbances occur during high stress periods. (Schlarb et al. 2017 p.1-8)
Another study that presents a clear issue in relation to sleeping problems in students was conducted by Royette Tavernier and Teena Willoughby, in which they explore sleep problems in correlation with media use. It has been observed that the development of media, especially social media and how accessible and portable digital media is becoming, is causing young people to delay sleep by lying in bed on their phones, usually on social media or watching TV shows or movies. Not only is this activity delaying sleep but has become a coping mechanism when a student is struggling to fall asleep, further complicating their sleep cycle (Royette & Willoughby 2014 p. 389-396). Media does not only hold the potential to delay sleep, but also distract us from our studies, therefore stands out as a factor I would like to further study in my research.
This research poses huge relevancy as students are more stressed than ever, and it is clear that sleep deprivation is a main cause of stress. I feel as though it is possible to be able to identify factors in our student life that we can pay attention to and adjust in order to get better sleep, and as a result, take another step towards achieving a better quality student experience.
Schlarb, A.A, Claben, M, Grünwald, Vögele 2017, ‘Sleep disturbances and mental strain in university students: results from an online survey in Luxembourg and Germany’ International Journal of Mental Health Systems pp. 1-8 https://ijmhs.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s13033-017-0131-9?site=ijmhs.biomedcentral.com accessed 13th March 2018
Royette, T, Willoughby, T 2014, ‘Sleep problems: predictor or outcome of media use among emerging adults at university?’ Journal of Sleep Research, Volume 23, Issue 4, August 2014 pp. 389-396 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jsr.12132/full accessed 13th March 2018