Texas Tech Counselor: Sleep Class Necessary for Some College Students

Higher education demands one culprit in Americans’ poor sleeping habits.

By the time students get to university, they should have about 18 years of sleeping practice under their belts and be experts in the field, right? Wrong. When the time comes for higher education, odd hours, late night parties and studying for tests can wreck a student's sleeping habits, said Bryan Duncan, a counseling psychologist at Texas Tech University's Student Wellness Center. And those bad sleeping habits can bleed into adult life. The National Sleep Foundation's 2008 Sleep in America poll reported American's work nine hours and 28 minutes on average, but spend only six hours and 40 minutes actually sleeping. NSF recommends getting at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night. "No doubt about it, college is definitely one of the places where people learn bad sleeping habits," he said. "There isn't the structure in college that you have when you're in high school. One of the biggest problems is fluctuating sleep. Students may have class at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but start at 8 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. This is really disruptive in terms of getting your sleep." Because of this, Duncan instructs an Improving Your Sleep Habits class that teaches students how to be more effective sleepers. The workshops take place one hour a week for four weeks. "It's easier to get thrown off than to get back on schedule with your sleeping habits," Duncan said. "Getting into a pattern is usually the hardest part." Stress from school, personal problems, studying and partying all night can cause bad sleeping habits, he said. Duncan tries to teach his students how to handle stresses during the day, or looks at possible psychological issues to alleviate worries that may cause sleeplessness. "When students come here, their sleeping patterns have changed a great deal and it's impacting their daily lives," he said. "Some people try to self-medicate with sleeping pills or alcohol. Sometimes, it's lifestyle issues standing in the way of getting enough sleep. We look at all of these things and try to get students back on track." His clients have three basic problems: Either not enough sleep, too much sleep, or restless sleep that's interrupted. "One of the biggest problems is naps. Naps get in the way of a healthy pattern. I joke with my clients that ‘you are 20 years old. You don't need naps.' Generally, I get them to practice good sleeping patterns for about two weeks, and then it's habit for them. '" While getting good sleep might not fix all the problems students face, it will definitely give them an academic edge, he said. "Well, it can help them get to class, and there's a definite correlation between attendance and better grades," he said. "Also, people who don't get enough sleep are at greater risk for problems such as obesity, diabetes, psychological distress and death in a motor vehicle accident." CONTACT: Bryan Duncan, counseling psychologist, Student Wellness Center at Texas Tech University, (806) 742-3674, or bryan.duncan@ttu.edu.