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4 Ways Lack of Sleep Hurts Student Health

Many students live a precarious balancing act between work, school, and a social life. Exams, papers, and the pressure to succeed lead to stress levels that may keep you up late into the night. Skipping out on a little sleep may seem like a good way sneak in some extra study time, but the truth is, lack of sleep messes up your mind and body. The danger of sleep deprivation goes far beyond a bad mood or a headache. Without adequate rest, you put your physical and mental health at risk. These are some of the main consequences of lack of sleep.

1. Weight Gain and Obesity

Lack of sleep causes your brain to change the amount of appetite-controlling hormones released. When you’re tired, higher levels of ghrelin, which makes you feel hungry, floods through your body. While you’re busy eating more than usual, leptin, the hormone that makes you feel full, gets released in smaller amounts than normal, making you far more likely to overeat. Not only that, sleep deprivation causes your body to crave high-fat, sugary foods because the reward center of the brain gets a bigger boost when you’re tired.

2. Depression and Anxiety

The pressures of student life already put teens and young adults at high risk for anxiety and depression. These and other mental illnesses often appear in times of increased stress. Lack of sleep increases stress levels and makes it more difficult to reduce stress in healthy ways.

3. Poor Academic Performance

Not only does sleep deprivation make you more likely to sleep through an exam, but it can also lower your test scores through poor performance. The brain slows down when you’re tired. You end up with short-term memory loss, poor reasoning skills, and reduced decision-making ability. All that late night studying may go to waste because the brain simply can’t recall information fast enough.

4. Higher Risk of Drowsy Driving Accidents

Driving while drowsy is no laughing matter. Studies have shown that students who get a full nine hours of sleep, the amount recommended for teens, get into fewer car accidents. The same changes in the brain that affect academic performance like poor reasoning and decision-making skills also impact driving ability. Add in the challenge of slowed reaction times and drowsy driving becomes as dangerous as drunk driving.

Sleep depravation can also lower your test scores through poor performance.

How to Get More High-Quality Sleep

Better sleep starts in a bedroom that’s got the right conditions and atmosphere. The room should be kept dark, cool, and quiet to help your mind and body relax. If your old mattress sags or has lumps you might want to get something more supportive. Once you’ve got the right conditions, it’s all about being smart and developing habits that help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

  • Be Consistent: Your body’s natural rhythms work on a daily cycle. Keeping a consistent bedtime and wake up time can help your brain follow your natural sleep-wake cycle. As tempting as it may be to stay up late or sleep in on weekends, it’s better to keep your regular sleeping schedule every day, so you’re not struggling to get out of bed on Monday morning.

  • Avoid Stimulants Too Close to Bedtime: The caffeine found in energy drinks and coffee can keep you buzzing late into the night. All stimulants should be stopped at least four hours before bed to prevent interruptions to your sleep cycle.

  • Turn Off the Screens: The bright light from your smartphone or laptop simulates sunlight, which makes your brain think it’s time to be awake. Turn off your screens at least one hour before bed. Also, try to charge your phone in another room, so you’re not tempted to use it.

Start building your sleep habits from now and see the results in the future!

Tuck Sleep is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been featured on NPR, Lifehacker, Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web.

Sara Westgreen,

Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.