Study finds college students may benefit from more sleep

Nov. 20 (UPI) — College students often find themselves burning the candle at both ends.

However, even with late-night study sessions — or late night parties — as well as early-morning classes, a study published this week in the journal Sleep Health suggests they may benefit from even an hour of extra shut-eye per night.

Researchers at Penn State found that when asked to extend their sleep, college students were able to get an additional 43 minutes of sleep per night on average. Notably, with that additional rest, they experienced less sleepiness during the day and were able to lower their blood pressure.

“A relatively minor commitment to get a little more sleep can make a real impact on improving your health,” study co-author Anne-Marie Chang, assistant professor of biobehavioral health and nursing at Penn State, said in a statement. “Our participants were young and healthy and still saw significant, clinically relevant improvements. That, to me, really highlighted the fact that longer sleep, especially if you’re not getting enough, can lead to physiological changes.”

According to the researchers, getting enough sleep is an issue for people of all ages. While experts recommend seven to nine hours of sleep per night for young adults, previous research has found that 36 percent of young adults are getting less than seven hours per night and 14 percent are averaging less than six hours per night.

Chang said not getting enough sleep could lead to a range of issues in college students, including impaired mood and cognitive performance.

“Mood is something that’s of concern in this group with anxiety being so prevalent,” she added. “Not getting the right quantity or quality of sleep affects cognitive performance, as well. Studies have shown sleep loss is related to poor grades, poor performance, and lack of effort and motivation. Also, other health behaviors like risky behavior, diet and eating behaviors, and sedentary behavior are all tied to lack of sleep or poor sleep.”

For the Sleep Health study, Chang and her colleagues followed 53 healthy undergraduate students and monitored their blood pressure, heart rate and movement and sleep habits for a two-week period. For the latter two measures, students were outfitted with a device called an accelerometer, which, when worn on their wrist, recorded their movement and sleep patterns.

The researchers instructed the students to sleep according to their usual schedule for the first week. After one week, they instructed the participants to extend their sleep by at least one hour per night for the following week.

In all, the researchers found that 77 percent of participants increased their nighttime sleep by more than 15 minutes per night, and 66 percent increased their sleep by more than 30 minutes per night.

And, while 40 percent reported excessive sleepiness during the first week, more than half of those participants reported lower sleepiness scores, in the non-excessive range, after increasing their sleep.

The researchers also found that participants’ systolic blood pressure was significantly reduced by seven points.

“We were really blown away by the blood pressure results,” Chang said. “Not only were the results statistically significant but they were also clinically relevant. Seven points is a large change in systolic blood pressure.”

“Not getting enough sleep is a real problem for students, and I think we’ve shown that given the opportunity, education and encouragement, college students can change the way they prioritize sleep. Hopefully other people will see that sleep can have a real effect on their health, it’s something they can do,” Chang said.

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