Sleep Not Top Priority for Students: Why It Should Be

Graphic by Alesandra Bell | Mercury Staff

Survey results show that only one-third of respondents at UTD regularly receive recommended number of hours of sleep 

Look through any student’s calendar, and you’ll likely see some recurring events: tests coming up, work hours and hangouts with friends. There is one event notably absent from this list: sleep. 

We block out time for other crucial aspects of our life, but sleep isn’t prioritized for most students. While the National Sleep Foundation recommends that young adults — ranging from 18 to 25 years old — receive seven to nine hours of sleep, a Mercury survey of 118 students found that only 30.5% of respondents received the recommended amount of sleep or more on a regular basis and 69.5% of students who took the survey received less than that. 

Sleep affects our social health as well as the people closest to us, such as significant others. This is an idea that Heidi Kane, assistant professor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at BBS, has explored in her research. As head of the Close Relationships and Health Lab, she has focused on the cognitive processes through which relationships, either friendly or romantic, are related to aspects of our health, such as sleep. 

“Let’s say I’m sleep deprived. Am I going to have the motivation to engage with my partner to find a resolution? Am I going to have the attentional capacity to pay attention to my partner and their needs? Am I going to have the regulatory control to control my own emotions so I can keep the conflict from escalating?” Kane said. “This process in our relationships can be affected by sleep.”

Stress and anxiety are the most prevalent consequences of sleep deprivation among UTD students, even more so than other campuses. According to the campus-wide 2017 American College Health Association Assessment, 38.9% of UTD students felt that their academic performance had been adversely affected by stress in the 12 months prior to the survey, compared to 27.4% of students at other institutions. Similarly, 30.6% of UTD students felt that their academic performance was adversely affected by anxiety in the past 12 months, compared to 18.3% of students at other institutions. 

This litany of negative effects is no secret, and it’s safe to assume that most students know these downsides. Yet we still continue to hit the books, hit the gym and hit the town, but we forget to hit the hay. Why is that? Well, according to The Mercury’s survey results, academics was chosen by 68.7% of students as their top priority. Regardless, the lack of sleep among students is a problem that the university faces and the administration has acknowledged. 

“I’ve had some promising meetings with academics. I have a meeting with graduate education next week, and we’re really focused on health and wellness because it’s such a concern in terms of mental health,” said Kacey Sebeniecher, director of the Student Wellness Center. “I can see the shifts starting to happen at different levels as we go up the chain (of authority).”  

As a result of these meetings and collaborations, there are plans that are designed to address this campus-wide issue, Sebeniecher said. 

“We’re starting to host events at different times,” she said. “Doing the late night events, that promotes people staying up late. If you’re coming home from a 10 p.m. event, you likely won’t sleep until 2 a.m. But if we have 6 p.m. event, then hopefully you’re in bed by 10 p.m. or 11p.m.”

Sebeniecher said that despite existing adjustments the university has made, campus offices are always open to changing in response to student needs.

“I definitely think there’s more changes to come,” Sebeniecher said. “And the beautiful thing about UT Dallas is we’re young, we’re 50 years old, and we have opportunities to make that culture shift and to influence what our college life is like here.”

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