Lack of Sleep Can Impact Grades, Health

By Bailey Abramowitz

A lack of sleep can decrease a student’s ability to study and prolongs the time it takes to learn information, a sleep expert said at a University of Texas at Austin lecture Sept. 12.

Professor Patricia Carter, who explained the impacts of sleep on health and grades at the event, said that all-nighters never do a student good because in order to get good grades, people need to sleep.

“It’s actually a waste of your time,” Carter said. “You’d be better off sleeping and being able to process the information that you’re trying to learn, than if you were to stay up all night trying to cram a little bit more in there.”

While studying all night seems like a good idea in the moment, it doesn’t allow the brain to process the information learned throughout the day. This oversaturates the brain and does not allow for absorption of any new information, Carter said.

Carter was part of a three-person panel in the Bass Concert Hall covering different aspects of health in college. She outlined the importance of sleep to college students whose main priority is often their grades instead of their health.

The event was specifically for freshman and transfer students making the transition to a university environment, but was attended by a range of students from all years. Throughout the lecture, the audience tweeted questions and interesting facts to the speakers. After the talk, many students stayed behind to chat with the panelists.

Lack of sleep can put students at risk for health problems such as depression, anxiety and problems with the immune system, Carter said. Making a habit of sleep deprivation will become a cycle that leads to these negative consequences.

Students who already struggle with anxiety or depression may be at a higher risk for sleeping disorders, she said.

“If you have a history of major depressive disorder and you are not sleeping well for a period of two weeks, you’re at an increased risk up to 50 percent of having an onset of major depressive disorder,” Carter said.

“We often use the phrase ‘the chicken or the egg,’” she said. “We want to be able to know what comes first so we can prevent it or lessen it so that the outcome is a little bit better.”

We initially thought sleep was a symptom of medical conditions, but now understand that sleep can also trigger many of these conditions and influences our ability to respond to the treatments, Carter said.

Dr. Lawrence J. Epstein, a Harvard Medical School professor and sleep expert who was not part of the panel, has found many correlations between mood and sleep. “People with depression and anxiety are at a high risk for sleep disorders, but the opposite has been proven to be true as well,” Epstein said.

Freshman English major Morgan Whisenhunt said she attended the lecture because she wanted to become healthier. She has already experienced sleep deprivation in college and said the lecture resonated with her because she felt a need to become responsible for her health.

Carter told the audience that every cell in the body needs to sleep and if not, it will result in bad physiological outcomes.

Mechanical engineering freshman Kanishak Joshi said it was harder to keep a healthier lifestyle and sleep schedule without his parents watching over him and enforcing a curfew. Although he enjoys the freedom of college, making the adjustment and learning how to take care of himself is a challenge with many consequences if healthy practices are not maintained.

“I never knew about sleep debt and how it can burden someone down,” Joshi said.

Sleep debt, a previously unknown concept and consequence to many students, is created if the daily sleep requirement is not obtained. The average college student gets six hours of sleep a night, but most adults should get from eight to 10 hours each night to avoid sleep debt, according to a University of Georgia sleep study.

Too much sleep debt will add up and lead to sleep deprivation, causing an individual to be crushed by the amount they have taken on with such little sleep, Carter said. It is a common occurrence in college, but can be prevented by implementing an effective sleep schedule.

An article written by another researcher and sleep expert, Shelley D. Hershner, recorded that 70.6 percent of college students are sleep deprived, receiving less than eight hours of sleep. According to Hershner, a lack of sleep puts their health at risk and makes these students more susceptible to have physical or mental problems.

To end the lecture, Brent Iverson, the dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies, put a relevant twist on the UT slogan based on Carter’s speech. He asked the audience, “How are you going to change the world if you’re not healthy?”