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The Significant Impact of Sleep

The Significant Impact of Sleep

Written by Kelsie Goller, MA, LPC-S, RPT

Clinical Director, KPS

About a third of American adults do not get the recommended amount of sleep, per the CDC. College students are one of the most sleep-deprived populations in our nation, with 60% reporting that they get insufficient sleep (Lund, 2009). Meanwhile, about 25-50% (data ranged by U.S. state) of children aged 4 months to 14 years old reported insufficient sleep. Sleep deprivation is an American epidemic, which has major consequences on our physical and mental health.

The Downsides of Lack of Sleep

Sleep deprivation can cause loss of long term memories and even incorporation of false memories, because sleep is necessary to consolidate what we learned during the day. Students who are taught a skill and then sleep deprived are able to do no better on that task later, while students who are allowed to sleep can perform better on the task after sleep, even with no additional practice (Hershner, 2014). Also, sleepy students have difficulty retaining new information; students who were taught a lesson after 35 hours of sleep deprivation (one night of missed sleep) performed two letter grades worse than those who had slept (Hershner, 2014). Sleep deprivation also causes us to misinterpret facial cues and focus on negative experiences, so sleep deprived people are more likely to pick a fight with others (Asp, 2016). Sleep deprivation (“drowsy driving”) leads to more motor vehicle accidents (CDC, 2022), and it decreases performance in athletics due to decreased coordination. It leads to more illnesses like colds and flu, as getting little sleep compromises the immune system. And it is also linked to weight gain, because sleep deprivation increases the hormone that makes us want high calorie foods while decreases the hormone that normally reduces our appetite (Asp, 2016). It makes a person have difficulty moving between subjects, which means their conversation is dulled, and can even give a person slurred speech (Asp, 2016). Sleep deprivation is associated with increased mental health issues like depression and anxiety, as well as with stress.

On the other hand, getting optimal sleep each night is associated with:

  • Increased energy

  • Stronger immune system

  • Better memory

  • Better mood

  • Increased creativity

  • Higher GPA for students

With so many reasons to sleep well, let’s look at ways to optimize your sleep. “Sleep hygiene” is the term that counselors and other professionals use to refer to creating environmental conditions and personal habits that are conducive for good sleep.

Sleep hygiene includes the following recommendations:

  • Avoid napping during the day.

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine in the 3-4 hours before bed.

  • Exercise (in the morning or late afternoon, before 2pm).

  • Don't eat large meals right before bed.

  • Get natural light during the day.

  • Develop a before bed routine.

  • Create a comfortable room (which is quiet, dark, and cool).

  • If you can't sleep, get out of bed. The Sleep Foundation recommends that you should not lie awake in bed for more than 20 minutes (Suni, 2022).

  • Stop using all technology 30 minutes before bed. Using technology right before bed (phones, TV, video games) is associated with less restful sleep, difficulty falling asleep, waking up multiple times or waking up too early. Exposure to blue light significantly reduces the production of melatonin, and it also prevents the body from reducing in temperature. People exposed to blue light before bed wake significantly more times through the night when tracked in a sleep laboratory, as well as reporting worse mood and more fatigue than people exposed to red light (University of Haifa, 2017).

  • Sleep/awaken at the same time each day, plus or minus twenty minutes. This is the most important factor of sleep hygiene. If you want to sleep in during the weekend, sleep only an hour longer during the weekend than your latest weekday wake-up time. Maintaining a regular schedule is critical to getting optimal sleep. Sleep regularity is just as important as how many hours you sleep and some research suggests that it may be even more important (Brigham and Women’s Hospital, 2018). In college students, sleep regularity is associated with more happiness, healthiness, and calmness (American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 2017).

If you are engaging in good sleep hygiene as outlined above but still experience significant sleep problems, it may be time to look into doing a sleep study at a sleep clinic in order to explore the possibility of a sleep disorder. You may also want to try one of the twelve sleep tips suggested below.

Sleep Tips:

  • 4-7-8 Method: Place the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth. Breathe in through your nose while counting to four. Hold your breath while counting to seven. Breathe out through your mouth while counting to eight.

  • Progressive relaxation: Tense the major muscle groups for ten seconds and then release the muscles, taking a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth between each muscle group.

  • Visualization: Imagine yourself in a favorite location (beach, mountains, etc.) While breathing in and out deeply, imagine what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel.

  • Apply pressure in the small depression between your eyebrows above the nose for a minute. Massage both of your ears for a minute.

  • Try to force yourself to stay awake (lay in bed and try to keep your eyes open.)

  • Get out of bed and do an activity- but no screens! (Color, puzzle, etc.)

  • Try cooling your room or taking a warm shower before bed.

  • Try wearing socks to bed.

  • Put cold water on your face for 30 seconds.

  • Inhale the scent of lavender before bed.

  • If you have too much on your mind, try journaling or making a list before bed.

  • Play Alphabet Categories: pick a category, and try to think of an item for each letter. (For example, fruits and vegetables: A for apple, B for banana, C for cantaloupe, etc.)


American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2017, June 5). Sleep regularity is important for the happiness and well-being of college students: Study shows the importance of regular sleep patterns. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 22, 2017 from

Asp, K. (2016). What happens to your brain when you’re sleep deprived? An infographic. American Association of Sleep Technologists. Retrieved from

Becker, S.P., Jarrett, M.A., Luebbe, A.M., Garner, A.A., Burns, G.L., & Kofler, M.J. (2018). Sleep in a large, multi-university sample of college students: sleep problem prevalence, sex differences, and mental health correlates. Sleep Health, 4(2), 174-181.

Breus, M. (2007). Sleep hygiene. The Sleep Doctor. Retrieved from

Breus, M. (2022). COVID-19 and Sleep. The Sleep Doctor. Retrieved from

Brigham and Women's Hospital. (2017, June 12). Irregular sleeping patterns linked to poorer academic performance in college students: Timing of sleep found to be as important as number of hours slept. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 23, 2017 from

Campsen, N.A. & Buboltz, W.C. (2017). Lifestyle factors’ impact on sleep of college students. Austin J Sleep Disord. 4(1): 1028.

Campus Mind Works, University of Michigan. (2016). Sleep. Retrieved from

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2022). Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Retrieved from

Foster, R. (2019). Light and the circadian rhythm: The key to a good night’s sleep? BBC News. Retrieved from

Friedrich, A. and Schlarb, A. A. (2018). Let's talk about sleep: A systematic review of psychological interventions to improve sleep in college students. J Sleep Res, 27: 4-22. doi:10.1111/jsr.12568

Gallagher, J. (2019). Night owls: Simple sleep tweaks boost wellbeing. BBC News. Retrieved from

Gallagher, J. (2019). Sleep myths “damaging” your health. BBC News. Retrieved from

Garcia de Jesus, E. (2020). COVID-19 lockdowns helped people get more, but not necessarily better, sleep. ScienceNews. Retrieved from https://

Jensen, D. R. (2003). Understanding sleep disorders in a college student population. Journal of College Counseling, 6: 25–34. doi:10.1002/j.2161-1882.2003.tb00224.x

Hershner, S. D., & Chervin, R. D. (2014). Causes and consequences of sleepiness among college students. Nature and Science of Sleep, 6, 73–84.

Kingkade, T. (2015). College students aren’t getting enough sleep. These universities are trying to change that. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://

Lund, H.G., Reider, B.D., Whiting, A.B., & Prichard, J.R. (2009). Sleep patterns and predictors of disturbed sleep in a large population of college students. Journal of Adolescent Health. Retrieved from

Medalie, L. (2020, April 16). Why it’s important to get a good night’s sleep during the coronavirus outbreak. UChicago Medicine. Retrieved from https://

Schwartz, S. (2015). 15 Science-backed ways to fall asleep faster. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from (2020). Sleep guidelines during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Retrieved from

Suni, E. (2022). Sleep hygiene. Sleep Foundation. Retrieved from

Uppsala Universitet. (2014, September 23). Lack of sleep increases risk of failure in school. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 23, 2017 from

University of Haifa. (2017, August 22). Blue light emitted by screens damages our sleep, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 23, 2017 from

University of Leeds. (2017, July 31). Insufficient sleep may be adding to your waistline. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 23, 2017 from


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