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Increasing Prevalence of Insomnia Among College Students

Updated: Jan 26

Table of Contents:

Causes Of Insomnia Among College Students

School As a Cause of Insomnia

Types Of Insomnia Experienced by College Students

Diagnosis Of Insomnia

Treatment Of Insomnia

Sleep Advice by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM)

What Are The Complications Of Insomnia Among College Students?

Prevention Of Insomnia

References


According to recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and Sleep Research Society, young adults should get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. However, only 60% of college students get adequate rest, sleeping only an average of 7 hours each night.


According to earlier studies, 15% of college students reported having consistently poor sleep quality, while up to 75% of them occasionally experienced sleep problems. In another study, researchers studied a sample of 191 undergraduate students and discovered that 73% of the students had some sort of sleep issue, with women experiencing sleep issues more frequently than males (1).


Insomnia is described by the National Sleep Foundation as "difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep, even when a person has the opportunity to do so." Chronic insomnia is characterized by disturbed sleep that happens at least three evenings per week for at least three months. Acute insomnia lasts just a short time and is frequently brought on by stressful life events. People who deal with insomnia frequently experience exhaustion, poor energy, trouble concentrating, mood swings, and impaired performance at work or in school (2).


When attending university, students go through several significant changes. They must deal with moving away from home, more independence, shifting peer dynamics, novel social circumstances, upholding academic obligations, and easier access to alcohol and other substances.


Ninety percent of college students live with roommates, and 41% of them report that their roommates' noise wakes them up at night. Weekday and weekend bedtimes and rise times sometimes vary by more than one to two hours. These difficulties and unique situations that university students deal with are linked to sleep disruptions (3).


In addition to academic concerns, university students' sleep problems are frequently linked to mental health problems. Students who struggle with insomnia frequently experience mental health issues such as chronic exhaustion, depression, stress, decreased optimism, anxiety, and a poorer quality of life.


Insomnia and mental health issues have been linked to many physical issues (ie, migraines, gastrointestinal diseases, and sexually transmitted diseases). Significant connections were still discovered for somatization, depression, anxiety, and general symptoms, as well as for obsessive-compulsive symptoms (3).


Causes Of Insomnia Among College Students


Students' poor sleep habits, mental health difficulties, and stress are the main causes of insomnia. 1,125 college students participated in a large-scale online study of college students to learn more about their sleep patterns. To determine which characteristics predicted poorer sleep, responses were modeled against Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) scores.


Surprisingly, factors like drinking alcohol and coffee did not affect the results. The typical student in this study did not consume enough caffeine for it to be a significant factor for those who had trouble falling asleep, but this does not imply that caffeine does not induce insomnia.


Similar findings have been made by other investigations. Particularly, there is a roughly 2-fold increased risk of clinically significant anxiety among students who suffer sleeplessness. This may imply that sleeplessness causes anxiety, which is true, but since anxiety, depression, and insomnia are all inversely correlated, one of these conditions may precede the other. Therefore, regardless of which comes first, both sleeplessness and worry can harm one another (4).


The following are variables that contribute to insomnia among college students:


1. Stress

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Your mind may remain active at night due to worries about your family, job, health, finances, or other factors, making it difficult to fall asleep. Insomnia can also be brought on by traumatic or stressful life events like divorce, losing your job, or losing a loved one to death or disease.


2. Poor sleep habits

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An erratic bedtime schedule, naps, stimulating activities right before bed, an uncomfortable sleeping environment, and using your bed for work, eating, or watching TV are all examples of poor sleep habits. Just before bed, using a computer, TV, video game console, smartphone, or another screen can disrupt your sleep cycle.


3. Late-night food

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A small snack before bed is acceptable, but if you consume too much, you can feel physically uncomfortable when you lie down. Heartburn, or the reflux of acid and food into the esophagus after eating, is another common condition that might keep you awake (5).


4. Drugs

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You may get insomnia if you take a lot of prescription medications, such as some antidepressants and treatments for asthma or high blood pressure. Numerous over-the-counter medications, including different painkillers, allergy and cold medications, and weight-loss medications, include caffeine and other stimulants that may interfere with sleep.


5. Caffeine and alcohol

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Stimulants include caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, cola, and others. If you consume them in the late afternoon or evening, you can have trouble going to sleep at night. Another stimulant that might disrupt sleep is nicotine, which is present in tobacco products. Alcohol may aid in your ability to fall asleep, but it prevents deeper sleep and frequently results in nighttime awakenings.


6. Mental health conditions

Your sleep may be disturbed by anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. An early awakening could indicate depression. Along with other mental health conditions, insomnia is frequently present (5).


School As a Cause of Insomnia

Teenagers' and college students' demands and responsibilities during the school day are probably major factors in their lack of sleep. Whatever their motivation or capacity, school assignments, schedules, and accountabilities can be quite demanding and cause them to put less focus on getting enough sleep.


Participation in extracurricular activities can make things worse. Intense competition can also have this effect. Students might stay up late to complete a task (and be less alert during the school day). Additionally, the issue can spiral out of control as students fall farther and further behind in their studies as their sleep debt grows (6).


Types Of Insomnia Experienced by College Students

Insomnia has been grouped based on different classification features. Insomnia can be classified based on duration, based on causes, and also the severity of insomnia has also been used as a yardstick in classifying insomnia.


A. Classification based on Duration

  • Acute insomnia: Acute insomnia is short-term insomnia that lasts for days, or weeks and the major trigger is usually stress

  • Chronic insomnia: When sleep problems persist for three months or more, they are considered chronic insomnia (7).


B. Classification according to Causes

  • Primary insomnia: This refers to difficulty getting sleep without a prior condition

  • Secondary insomnia: This refers to difficulty getting sleep occurring as a result of an underlying medical condition, for example, anxiety (8).


C. Classification according to the Severity

  • Mild insomnia: Mild insomnia is characterized by a lack of sleep that causes fatigue.

  • Moderate insomnia: Daily functioning may be impacted by moderate insomnia

  • Severe insomnia: Life is significantly affected by severe sleeplessness (8).


D. Other identified types of insomnia are:

  • Onset insomnia: The term "onset insomnia" refers to trouble falling asleep. Caffeine consumption, mental health issue, or other classic insomnia causes may cause onset insomnia, but other sleep problems may also cause it.

  • Maintenance insomnia: Maintenance insomnia is characterized by persistent early morning awakenings or difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. This kind of insomnia may be related to underlying physical and mental health issues but worrying about not getting enough sleep while you're awake might make it worse (9).

  • Fatal insomnia: Deathly insomnia is not a sleep condition, despite the word insomnia appearing in its name. Instead, fatal insomnia, also known as fatal familial insomnia (FFI), is an extremely rare genetic condition that damages the brain gradually. A neurological condition known as fatal family insomnia has a wide range of symptoms, including progressively more problematic sleep issues.

  • Paradoxical insomnia: Paradoxical insomnia, also known as sleep state misperception, is when a person believes their sleep is significantly disturbed yet there is no other evidence to support this belief. The amount of sleep that paradoxical insomniacs obtain may be significantly underestimated (10).


Diagnosis Of Insomnia

Many things can cause insomnia to develop, including psychological, environmental, and physical problems. Life stressors include things like work, relationships, and financial troubles, as well as bad sleeping and eating habits and chronic pain brought on by illnesses like fibromyalgia, arthritis, or other conditions. Thyroid disease, menopause, menstruation, or other reasons might cause hormone variations.


The diagnosis of insomnia cannot be made using a precise test. To diagnose insomnia, it is crucial to go over your sleep history with your doctor. Long-term sleep deprivation can harm students' physical and mental health (11).


Treatment Of Insomnia

There are several ways to cure insomnia, including therapy, prescription drugs, dietary supplements, and natural therapies:


1. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

2. Medications and supplements

3. Lifestyle changes


1. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

For individuals with chronic insomnia, the American College of Physicians (ACP) suggests CBT as a first-line therapy. Specialists have created a particular subtype of CBT to handle insomnia called CBT-I. You can acquire particular methods to deal with insomnia with the assistance of an online or in-person therapist, including:


Stimulus control: This method encourages you to get out of bed and engage in a peaceful activity before you feel drowsy to reduce the amount of time you spend lying awake and stressing about going to sleep.


Bright light therapy: According to whether you have more problems getting to sleep or staying asleep, this strategy entails being exposed to bright light in the morning or evening.


Sleep restriction: This method can help you get more rest by initially limiting the amount of time you spend in bed and then gradually increasing it.


To address habits keeping you from getting enough good sleep, your therapist may also give you advice on relaxation techniques and sleep hygiene measures. The following can be recommended:

  • Drinking caffeinated drinks right before sleeping

  • Eating a lot, of hefty meals, or spicy food just before bed

  • Getting vigorous activity just before bed

  • Using the bed for purposes other than sex or sleep


A therapist can also assist in identifying underlying mental health concerns that are causing your symptoms to worsen or are causing your sleeplessness. Taking care of these causes and contributors can greatly aid in reducing insomnia.


2. Medications and supplements

Your doctor may prescribe the following medications to treat your insomnia:


Supplements and over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids like melatonin can also help with insomnia. It's believed that taking melatonin pills may help you fall asleep faster because your body naturally creates the hormone during the sleep cycle.


Despite this, there is still conflicting evidence to support the use of melatonin as a sleep aid. Furthermore, although melatonin is typically regarded as safe for short-term usage, scientists have not yet confirmed if it is safe to use it long-term.


3. Lifestyle changes

The following lifestyle and behavioral changes will help in the management of insomnia:


Meditation: This method encourages relaxation and mindfulness of the moment. It does more than just facilitate better sleep and makes falling asleep simpler. Additionally, it can aid in the reduction of pain, tension, and anxiety all of which may contribute to insomnia. You can start practicing meditation with the aid of many applications.


Natural sleeping aids: Before going to bed, you may try things like warm milk, herbal tea, and valerian. Lavender and other calming scents might also have some advantages.


Acupuncture: Many people find relief from sleeplessness problems from this conventional Chinese medicine procedure that includes inserting tiny needles into pressure points throughout the body (9).


Sleep Advice by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM)

  • Maintain a regular bedtime regimen.

  • Create a calming environment before going to bed.

  • Every night, get a full night's sleep.

  • Before going to bed, stay away from caffeine-containing foods and beverages as well as any medications that contain a stimulant.

  • Do not carry your troubles into bed.

  • Don't go to bed hungry, but also avoid eating a substantial meal just before bed.

  • Avoid strenuous exercise six hours before going to bed.

  • Create a calm, dark, and moderately cool bedroom.

  • Wake up at the same time each day (12).


What Are The Complications Of Insomnia Among College Students?

  • You can feel agitated, anxious, or depressed when you have trouble falling asleep or have sporadic sleep.

  • Feel low in energy or exhausted throughout the day.

  • Possess memory problems or have trouble focusing.

  • Struggle at your job, or school.

  • Poor academic performance


Prevention Of Insomnia:

  • The following lifestyle changes and bedroom practices can help you avoid insomnia:

  • Avoid consuming coffee, alcohol, and heavy meals right before bed.

  • Be physically active all day, preferably outside.

  • Reduce your intake of caffeine during the day, but especially at night.

  • Including weekends, going to bed, and rising at the same hour every day.

  • At least 30 minutes before night, put away phones, TVs, laptops, and other screens.

  • Give up smoking.

  • Convert your bedroom into a cool, quiet, and dark haven.

  • Use calming music, a nice book, or meditation to relax (7).

References

(1) Mbous, Y. P. V., Nili, M., Mohamed, R., & Dwibedi, N. (2022). Psychosocial Correlates of Insomnia Among College Students. Preventing Chronic Disease, 19 (http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd19.220060). https://doi.org/10.5888/pcd19.220060


(2) Care, C. (2019, September 5). Insomnia 101: How to combat insomnia and improve sleep habits in college. Crimsoncare. https://www.crimsoncare.com/post/insomnia-101-how-to-combat-insomnia-and-improve-sleep-habits-in-college


(3) Schlarb, A., Friedrich, A., & Claßen, M. (2017). Sleep problems in university students – an intervention. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 13(10.2147/NDT.S142067), 1989–2001. https://doi.org/10.2147/ndt.s142067


(4) Cudmore, D. (2021, July 12). Insomnia in College Students: Causes and Effects. Snoozeuniversity.com. https://snoozeuniversity.com/insomnia-students/


(5) Mayo Clinic. (2016, October 15). Insomnia - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355167#:~:text=Insomnia%20is%20a%20common%20sleep


(6) Phan, H. (n.d.). Information Resource About Student Sleep Deprivation. http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/sleep.pdf


(7) Cleveland Clinic. (2015). Insomnia | Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12119-insomnia


(8) Crosta, P. (2020, July 28). Insomnia: Causes, symptoms, and treatments. www.medicalnewstoday.com. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/9155


(9) Lamoreux, K. (2014, October). Everything You Need to Know About Insomnia. Healthline; Healthline Media. https://www.healthline.com/health/insomnia


(10) Suni, E. (2020, September 4). Insomnia. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia


(11) Mustapha, A. (2022, May 4). Insomnia Among University Students. Www.sun.edu.ng. https://www.sun.edu.ng/knowledge-update/insomnia-among-university-students


(12) American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2008, May 14). Insomnia significantly affects the school performance of college students - American Academy of Sleep Medicine – Association for Sleep Clinicians and Researchers. American Academy of Sleep Medicine – Association for Sleep Clinicians and Researchers. https://aasm.org/insomnia-significantly-affects-the-school-performance-of-college-students/


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