What keeps you up at night?

February 8th, 2007

Sleep. Many college students do it out of necessity, some during class lectures and others put it aside to cram for tests or finish last-minute papers. Some students even do it for fun, sleeping during their free time or napping recreationally. It shows up under “Activities” and “Interests” in thousands of Facebook profiles.

“Sleeping is one of my favorite things to do,” said sophomore Jessica Bader. “My bed is so comforting, and I love the feeling of being able to sleep in.”

It is clear that college students value and need sleep, but according to, studies from the Sleep Foundation of America show that college students are the leading group of people not getting enough of it. One of the major causes of students’ sleepless nights is insomnia.

Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or remain asleep. It can be either acute, lasting one to several nights, or chronic, lasting months to years. The studies found that adults ages 18-29 are the most likely to experience and perpetuate insomnia.

According to, half of American insomniacs report “stress or worrying” as the primary reason.

However, there are several causes, some explainable and others not, that are particularly relevant to college students.

According to John Carroll University psychology professor Nicholas R. Santilli, insomnia is often a result of how students treat their bodies. “A good bit of insomnia is related to how much exercise you get,” Santilli said. “Consuming energy drinks, caffeine and alcohol can also disrupt sleep.”

According to the National Sleep Foundation, taking over-the-counter or prescription drugs, such as pain relievers or even birth control pills, can contribute to problems with insomnia.

Santilli also commented on how health issues relate to sleeplessness. “Some disruption in sleep can be related to illnesses, such as the cold or the flu, which cause changes in your body.”

Perhaps the largest cause to students’ insomnia is their irregular sleeping habits, something typical of the college environment. “The hours of sleep I get per night vary a lot,” said sophomore Stephen Kam. “Sometimes I’ll get 10 hours, other times only five or six. I do a lot of napping during the afternoon before I go out for the night, and sometimes I’ll wake up really early to do schoolwork.”

Insomnia has many adverse effects on students and their academic and social performance. It is not uncommon to hear students complain about being tired or not getting enough sleep.

“Paying attention in class, staying involved with my sorority and fulfilling my Resident Assistant obligations are much harder if I get a poor night’s sleep,” said junior Missy Kocab.

Although many students experience insomnia, it is not incurable. There are several ways to combat restless nights. According to the University of Cambridge Counseling Service, one of the best ways to cure the problem is to change your environment. Students need to maintain a clean sleeping space, with proper lighting and temperature.

Eliminating as much noise as possible will also help control the problem.
Students may also need to change their lifestyle in order to get healthy, restful sleep. “Any changes in one’s eating habits or social and work practices can disrupt sleep,” said Santilli. “Trying to get on a schedule and developing a regular sleeping routine can eliminate bouts of sleeplessness.”

Since stress seems to be a part of many insomnia cases, students are advised to develop forms of relaxation to alleviate tension or worries. Examples of this are playing non-competitive games or practicing breathing exercises before trying to sleep.

Santilli feels that managing stress is the key. “Some people respond to stress by sleeping too much and others not enough. Students need to recognize the more stressful parts of the semester in order to control sleep problems.”