Editorial: Breaking the culture of sleep deprivation

Many universities boast 24-hour libraries and dining halls. Harvard’s undergraduate Lamont Library is open 24 hours a day; MIT offers three libraries with 24-hour access. This might sound appealing for students who want access to a library during all hours of the day. Students could work late into the night without worrying about closing times or needing to move to the reading room when the clock strikes. On-campus resources such as databases, reference books and chargers would be at students’ disposal 24/7. But what is the effect of these never-closing facilities on students’ mental health?

Numerous studies reveal a significant correlation between students’ sleep patterns and their success. A 2014 study by the University of Michigan Medical School reveals a number of alarming statistics. Sampling the greater population of college students, the study reports 50 percent of the respondents experiencing “daytime sleepiness” while 70 percent “attain insufficient sleep.” Furthermore, 70.6 percent of college students surveyed said they get less than eight hours of sleep on a daily basis.

Many students are aware that they must strike a balance among academics, sleep, social life, extracurricular involvement and other day-to-day happenings. Yet students at a number of top-tier institutions are encouraged to either match or surpass the work ethic of their peers: an endless competition of who’s in the library the longest, who did the most practice tests, and who posted frantically on the class discussion board just past dawn.

But in a world that’s speeding up, maybe we need to slow down. It’s not that students don’t understand the negative impacts of sleep deprivation. In fact, student respondents to the Michigan study ranked sleep issues “second only to stress in factors that negatively impact academic performance.” Students are informed and aware, so why are they constantly stuck in the cycle of staying up too late and getting up too early?

An article published by the National Sleep Foundation reveals that “even small levels of sleep deprivation over time can chip away at your happiness.” According to Mental Health America, “sleep combats some of the fallout of stress, and poor sleep has been linked to … greater risk of depression and anxiety.” If students themselves cannot take a step back and achieve the sleep they need, which is admittedly difficult for many, perhaps it is up to their institutions to take the lead.

Tufts’ efforts to encourage better sleep habits in students are made clear in its facilities’ open hours. Tisch Library is fully open until 1 a.m. from Sunday to Thursday and late-night study remains available until 3 a.m. The nearby Mayer Campus Center is open from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. on weekdays. Ginn Library, located in The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, closes at 1 a.m. from Sunday to Thursday. The latest available on-campus option for student study, Eaton Lab, is open until 4 a.m. from Sunday to Thursday. However, none of these common study spots are open 24 hours per day in a regular week. While frustrating to some, this policy serves as an asset to Tufts’ demonstrated interest in students’ mental health.

The study argues “all-night study sessions are the wrong plan for improved grades and learning,” citing data that students who obtain more than or equal to nine hours of sleep per night have higher GPAs than those who obtain less than six hours of sleep per night (averages of 3.24 versus 2.74, respectively).

According to Tufts Health and Wellness Services’ webpage, “56 [percent] of Tufts students get 4 nights of restful sleep per week.” 70 percent of the study’s respondents self-reported they receive insufficient sleep. Comparing sleep habits of Tufts students to those of a population of college students at a number of institutions is uplifting. While the 56 percent statistic can certainly be improved upon, it proves impressive in today’s hyper-competitive university atmosphere.

Many students complain about sleep deprivation, and perhaps some of it should be attributed to clubs, not just the university. Numerous clubs host regular meeting hours outside of class hours. Clubs may instead choose to meet on weekends, during open block or at earlier times that correlate with members’ schedules; this could contribute to a better night’s sleep for students who wish to participate in a variety of extracurricular activities. This is, of course, difficult. Balancing the schedules of many can be tedious, but it is a step toward promoting better sleep schedules for a club’s members.

Tufts’ Counseling and Mental Health Services and the Department of Health Promotion and Prevention stress the importance of sleep for students on the university website and through interactions with individual specialists. The university also provides a number of resources to students, including mindfulness and stress reduction programs and access to specialists. However, only a deeper cultural shift can promote healthier sleep patterns among students. The university should engender a culture where self-care comes before getting high grades. Students, alike, should take a step back when necessary and be proactive in seeking accommodations if they are not getting sufficient amounts of sleep.