Why Sleep Is Important for Students

Student falls asleep while studying

On average, adults need upwards of seven hours of sleep each night.1 But many, especially college students, have difficulty meeting that benchmark. While poor sleeping habits may seem sustainable to some younger adults, they can establish a cycle that is difficult to break later in life and may lead to health complications.

The issue of why sleep is important for students is complex, as multiple and varied consequences may result. Sleep is an essential element of good health, and skimping on snooze time can have big ramifications on the body and mind during the waking hours.

In This Article:

Sleep Deprivation in College Students

Despite the critical importance of sleep for college students, many find it hard to come by. In fact, research published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that roughly 26.4% of college students may suffer from insomnia. The study further discovered that students with certain other health issues (depression and ADHD) were significantly more likely to suffer from insomnia. The same held true for students holding down jobs while enrolled in college.2

Why Are College Students Lacking Sleep?

There can be many causes and contributing factors to the widespread lack of sleep in college students. As previously mentioned, lack of sleep can lead to mental health issues and also be the result of them. Furthermore, college students may struggle to get enough sleep because of:3

  • Anxiety
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling compelled to stay up late or all night long studying
  • Being overworked

Other researchers have linked college students’ excessive use of technology and social media to sleeplessness. Excessive napping during the day can also contribute to problems falling asleep, and the fear of missing out on social activities may worsen insomnia.4

Reasons Why Sleep Is Important for Students

Lack of sleep in college students is a significant concern. There are many reasons why sufficient amounts and adequate quality of sleep are important for students, including the following:

Removal of Metabolic Waste Products

While a person sleeps, the brain is more active than you might think. In fact, its “waste management system” kicks into high gear when the brain waves slow down.5

This process is rather complex. As the cerebrospinal fluid enters the brain, it circulates around the cells, collecting waste products as it does so. Then, the cerebrospinal fluid leaves the brain, taking the waste products with it to be flushed away by the lymphatic system.5

What exactly is all this waste doing in the brain? During the day, all of the thoughts, emotions, bodily movements and problem-solving that the brain orchestrates requires glucose and nutrients, and the use of that fuel leaves behind metabolic waste products. Unless those waste products are removed regularly, researchers believe they can contribute to the development of neurodegenerative conditions, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer’s.5

Memory Consolidation

If you ask any college student about what’s helpful to them in achieving good grades, you will likely hear “memory” as one of the items on the list. Unsurprisingly, sleep is crucial for memory consolidation or retention.

Researchers have found that during a specific stage of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the adult-born neurons (ABNs) in the hippocampus of the brain can undergo synaptic changes that contribute to the formation of memories.6 In other words, sleep is an important part of the process of remembering the information you gain throughout the day, so a good night’s rest after a lecture or two may be the key to improving your subject memory.

Physical and Psychological Health Protection

Not getting enough sleep can lead to severe short-term and long-term health complications. In addition to causing problems with concentration and learning, sleep deprivation can increase the risk of psychological health issues, such as:7

  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts

What’s more, your body depends upon sleep to maintain its physical health. Sleep is essentially a form of biological upkeep, and not getting enough of it can increase the risk of:7

  • Injuries resulting from accidents caused by sleepiness
  • High blood pressure
  • Weight gain
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Hormonal imbalances

Lack of sleep can even affect your immune system, making you more susceptible to acquiring infections. This is because your body uses the time when you’re asleep to manufacture antibodies, cytokines and other substances that fight off infections. Without enough sleep, your immune system may not be functioning as well as it should.7

Choose a Healthy, Positive College and Apply at GCU!

Grand Canyon University strives to cultivate a healthy, positive college campus that supports the diverse needs of our students. Explore our bachelor’s degree programs to find one that suits your academic interests and career aspirations. Furthermore, we offer many online programs that may offer more flexibility, allowing you to balance healthy sleep patterns with your studies. Fill out the form on this page to learn more about joining our Christian learning community.

1 Suni. E and Singh, A. (2023, May 13). How Much Sleep Do You Need? Sleep Foundation. Retrieved on May 17, 2024. 

Mbous Y.P.V., Nili M., Mohamed R., Dwibedi N. (2022, Sept. 15). Psychosocial correlates of insomnia among college students. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved April 9, 2024. 

American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2021, May 5). College students aren’t getting nearly enough sleep. Sleep Education. Retrieved April 9, 2024.

Pandolfo, I. (2022). Sleeplessness in college town: Causes and effects of poor sleep in college students. The Review: A Journal of Undergraduate Research. Retrieved April 9, 2024.

Wegorzewska, M. (2024, Feb. 28). Neurons help flush waste out of brain during sleep. Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Retrieved April 9, 2024. 

ScienceDaily. (2020, June 5). Memory consolidation during REM sleep. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 9, 2024. 

Watson, S. and Cherney, K. (2020, May 15). The effects of sleep deprivation on your body. Healthline. Retrieved April 9, 2024. 

Approved by the assistant vice president of GCU Marketing on May 20, 2024.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.