University News

Poll: More than half of students get sufficient sleep

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, November 9, 2012
This article is part of the series Fall 2012 Student Poll

About 65.5 percent of students sleep six to eight hours a night, according to a poll conducted by The Herald last month. Slightly more than a quarter of students polled said they sleep four to six hours a night, and 7.1 percent reported sleeping at least eight hours nightly.

The recommended amount of sleep for young adults is about seven to nine hours a night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Not getting enough sleep can limit concentration, hinder problem solving, increase aggressiveness and magnify the effects of alcohol.

But the amount of sleep each student needs varies, said Mary Carskadon, professor of psychiatry and human behavior.

“There’s a range around that,” she said. “In general, we feel most students would do better with a little more sleep than they’re getting.”

But healthy sleep depends on more than just duration, she said. “It’s not just how much one sleeps that can cause concerns or problems. It’s how regular one’s sleep pattern is.”

Carskadon, who specializes in the study of sleep regulatory mechanisms of children through young adults and directs the Sleep for Science Research Lab, said high schoolers’ sleeping schedules often skew more favorably toward the weekends when teenagers wake up late and go to sleep late.

But in college, students are “all over the map all through the week,” she said, calling the phenomenon “social jetlag.”

“Their body is never really synchronized with the world they live in,” she said.

Carskadon’s Sleep for Science study recruits first-years and follows their sleeping habits because transitioning to college can be a disruptive experience, Carskadon said. In a recent paper, Carskadon reported that students with parent-imposed bedtimes when younger tended to have healthier sleep cycles than college students who never had set bedtimes.

Poll results indicated a correlation between demographic factors like athletic status, class year and financial aid. Athletes were twice as likely as non-athletes to report getting more than eight hours of sleep per night, with 12.6 percent of athletes reporting this amount. About 68.9 percent of athletes reported sleeping six to eight hours a night, compared to 65.1 percent of non-athletes.

“If I know I have practice, I know I have to get something done before practice,” said rugby player Janelle Watson-Daniels ’14, who reported sleeping about eight hours a night. “People who don’t have practice will just chill all day and look up and have to stay up all night.”

But some athletes said they felt they got less sleep than the statistics suggested.

“I never go to sleep early enough, even before lift, to get the same amount of sleep I normally would,” said Charlotte McGoldrick ’14, a member of the equestrian team. McGoldrick reported sleeping about six to seven hours a night. “Athletes are so busy because they have practice in the morning and have practice in the afternoons, so they’re doing work later than other people, and they still go out,” she added.

Upperclassmen were also likely to get more sleep, which some students attributed to better time management skills.

“Every night I plan out my schedule for the next day, and I do it hour by hour,” Watson-Daniels said. “I feel most people waste a lot of time, and that’s why they don’t have good sleep skills.”

Students not on financial aid were also twice as likely as aided students to get more than eight hours of sleep a night, according to The Herald’s poll. About 9.3 percent of students not on aid reported sleeping at least eight hours a night to aided students’ 4.5 percent.

About 67.9 percent of non-aided students reported sleeping six to eight hours a night, as opposed to 62.5 percent of aided students.

“If someone’s on a lot of financial aid, it could correlate with pressure from home to do well and work harder,” said Rebecca Levy ’16, who said she does not receive financial aid. “But in people I’ve seen, I don’t know if that actually applies.”

Students also had mixed perceptions about differences in sleeping schedules among different concentrations.

“I know people who don’t sleep for days (in the sciences),” said Watson-Daniels, a physics concentrator. But the humanities lend themselves to more all-nighters, she said. “They have papers that they wait until the last minute to write, as opposed to a problem set,” she added. “You have to start when you get it. Otherwise, you just won’t finish it.”

“I think people’s first reaction would be, ‘Oh, they’re humanities students, of course they get more sleep, they don’t have as much work,’ but I don’t think that’s true at all,” said Elaine Nguyen ’15. “Humanities students have a lot more papers, whereas science students have a lot more lab reports.”

But students said their sleeping schedules depended on more than just their academic schedules.

“It depends on the work I have, and most of the time the reason I sleep late is because of procrastination,” said Thanin Kovitchindachai ’16. “I fiddle around on Facebook and listen to music and read before I go to sleep.”



Written questionnaires were administered to 959 undergraduates October 17-18 in the lobby of J. Walter Wilson and the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center during the day and the Sciences Library at night. The poll has a 2.9 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence. The margin of error is 4.3 percent for students receiving financial aid, 4.0 percent for students not receiving financial aid, 9.0 percent for varsity athletes and 3.1 percent for non-athletes.


Correction: A pie graph that previously accompanied this article was mislabeled, assigning a large portion of the graph to the number of students who stated they get more than eight hours of sleep per night compared to the number of students who get between four and six hours of sleep. In fact, about 7 percent of students get more than eight hours of sleep per night, while 26.4 percent reported getting between four and six hours of sleep each night. The Herald regrets the error.

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