Here’s What’s Keeping College Students From Getting The Sleep They Need

Late last month, I visited the California offices of Chegg, a higher education company that specializes in helping college students with everything from affordable textbook rentals to online tutoring. Lately, Chegg has committed to gaining a deeper understanding of another subject central to college students’ lives: sleep. And as Chegg’s CEO Dan Rosensweig and I began a conversation with an audience of Chegg employees, Dan shared the results of a new Chegg survey on the sleep habits of college students.

The survey’s findings bring valuable data to a familiar problem: for an alarming number of students, college has been turned into one long training ground for burnout. The motto “sleep, grades, social life: pick two,” or some version of this, can be heard on campuses across the country. The combination of academic pressures, social opportunities — and for many, newfound freedoms and the resulting challenge of time management — creates an environment where sleep doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

So as thousands of young people across the country prepare to head off to college, here are a few findings from the Chegg study — which surveyed 473 students from a mix of public and private colleges — that I found most illuminating.

Most students know there is a link between sleeping and academic performance.

Over half of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that students who do better in school probably get more sleep. (They’re right, of course. A 2014 study by the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota showed that the effect of sleep deprivation on grades is roughly equivalent to binge drinking and drug use.)

And the vast majority of students want to get the sleep they need.

Fully 84 percent said 8 or more hours would be “ideal” on a school night.

But very few are meeting that goal.

Only 16 percent usually get 8 or more hours on a school night, with far more (79 percent) sleeping 5 to 7 hours a night.

Today’s college students are constantly connected.

Students overwhelmingly cited time spent online and with electronic devices as significant obstacles to sleep. Asked to name the reasons that keep them from sleeping, 51 percent cited too much time online doing non-school related activities — second only to having too much homework.

Even in bed.

A whopping 86 percent said they take their devices to bed with them — for email, texting and other non-school activities. And 90 percent leave their phones on when they go to sleep.

The good news?

Chegg’s survey found that most college students have plenty of free time each day (much of it, for better or worse, is spent online). So there’s an opportunity for students to set aside some of that time for sleep, whether that means going to bed 30 minutes earlier or finding time during the day for a nap.

And the fact that so many students know how much sleep they should be getting, and are aware of how tethered they are to their devices, is at least a first step in changing habits. As more studies like this emerge — and as I was researching The Sleep Revolution, I was struck by the sheer number of new studies adding to our understanding of sleep’s vital role in every aspect of our lives — people will be more equipped to make changes, even small ones, to help them get the sleep they need.

That’s why HuffPost launched the Sleep Revolution College Tour, and why we continue to tell stories around sleep’s impact on our lives — everything from the military’s rediscovery of sleep as an essential tool of judgment to the ways athletes increasingly view it as the ultimate performance enhancer. As we approach the start of another academic year, with all its possibilities, there’s no better time than now to renew our relationship with sleep and savor all the benefits it brings.

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