Poor Sleep Among College Students

Updated May 11, 2022

college girl on bed

Why Do Students Struggle with Sleep?

College can be a new experience for most people. For many, it is the first time away from home and it is a chance to start a new chapter in life. Some students may struggle to adapt to the new challenges that college brings along.

According to an article found on the National Center for Biotechnology for Information (NCBI) website conducted by Shelley. D Hershner and Ronald D. Chervin in the Neurology department at the University of Michigan, 50% of college students in a questionnaire reported daytime sleepiness while 70% attain insufficient sleep. This page will discuss the prevalence of college students failing to obtain good sleep and ways to improve sleep hygiene.

Poor Studying or Work Habits

Instead of studying or staying on top of their work, some students will try to pull an all-nighter (24 hours or more of sleep deprivation). This will lead to poor studying and poorly done work which will ultimately result in poor academic performance. Without proper REM sleep, a student’s ability to retain crucial information because it is the stage that stimulates the areas of your brain that are essential in learning. Without a proper sleep schedule, some university students will see their grades and GPA fall. For more on REM sleep, visit our page on sleep science.

To improve studying habits, The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers some advice on what students can do better.

Proper Environment

Setting up a proper study environment is crucial to the learning process. If your environment is not working for you, switching your study environment to a coffee shop or library can increase recall performance. Eliminate distractions and listen to calm music, anything with lyrics could possibly be distracting.

SQ3R (or SQRRR) Method)

Above is an acronym that stands for Survey Question Read Recite Review. Instead of reading the entire book you should survey it first and make notes on headings, subheadings, images, or charts. The next step is to write down important questions about the chapter.

Next, you should read the chapter to look for answers. Recite the information by trying to answer questions from the second step. To make sure you understand the chapter, re-read portions you did not understand.

Retrieval Practice

Retrieval practice is the concept of remembering an answer later. Recalling an answer improves learning better than looking it up. These tips can help implement the process into your study routine.

  • Practice Tests - quiz yourself with a practice test or other questions without looking at notes.

  • Make your own questions - create questions you think would be a test.

  • Flashcards - these are a great way to practice the retrieval technique.

For several more study tips, check out the link above for more help from USAHS.

Poor Consumption Habits

While enjoying their time away from home, some college students might not make the best decisions when it comes to choosing what they eat or drink. Some of these choices result in poor sleep while others use certain drinks as a substitute for sleep.


The NCBI article from above said that four out of five college students drink alcohol with 40% of men and women reporting “binge drinking” or the consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time. One study found that some students use alcohol as a sleep aid. Alcohol use can result in poor quality sleep. Avoid drinking alcohol close to bedtime. Experts warn that excessive drinking can lead to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)


Caffeine in the form of coffee, energy drinks, or other stimulants is the preferred tool students use to carry out their all-nighters. They will also use it in the morning if they did not sleep enough to carry themselves through the day. Caffeine can lead to poor sleep quality and can lead to insomnia, anxiety, and other sleep disorders. For tips on what to eat and drink before going to bed, check out our page on beverages, foods, and vitamins that help you sleep.

Excessive Screen Time

The use of phones or other technology before bed can result in a lack of sleep. Many young adults said they leave their phones on while they sleep. Using your phone late at night can cause anxiety or depressive symptoms and may result in sleep loss. Put your phone away at least 30 minutes before falling asleep. Check out our page on cell phone habits and poor sleep for more information.


For young adults, college is an increase in responsibilities. The transition from high school to college can be overwhelming for some first-year students. Over time stress can build from the new challenges which will cause a lack of sleep.

Chronic high stress will interfere with your ability to study or focus in class. It will also lead to mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. Stress can also lead to other health problems such as chest pains or stomach issues. To manage stress and improve your sleep, increase your physical activity and try breathing exercises.

For more on how to manage stress check out our page on stress management.

Tips to Improve Sleep Problems

Take a Nap

To recover lost hours of sleep, taking a nap can improve your well-being. Be sure not to nap too long because it can keep you from getting enough sleep at night. Visit our page to learn more about taking naps.

Establish Proper Sleep Patterns

When possible, make sure you are going to sleep at consistent times. Students who understand the importance of sleep and engage in healthy sleep habits. Consistent and healthy sleep behaviors correlate with better sleep duration and a better quality of life.

Sleep Environment

When living on campus, students sleep in dorms on a mattress they are not used to. Students can face a variety of sleep disturbances that can affect sleep. Keeping your environment free of distractions can help sleepers avoid sleep impairment.


College can bring in new challenges which can lead to sleep issues. The lack of sleep can stem from a number of issues. Make some changes to help yourself out.

Improve your work or study habits to avoid cramming or pulling all-nighters. Avoid using caffeine as a substitute for sleep because this will only worsen your problems. Put your phone down when getting ready for bed. For more help on what causes sleep loss and what can help improve sleep habits, check out our page on sleep loss.

About the Author Steven Bieber

Steven Bieber HeadshotSteven is a content writer who recently broke into the mattress industry. In his free time, he enjoys watching football and listening to music.

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