Recently, my Residential Assistant put up a variety of informational posters about how to combat stress. Admittedly, I don’t usually pay attention to such things. But this time, a certain one caught my eye:

Sleep deprivation poster
This informational poster warns students of the dangers of sleep deprivation, as well as offers tips on how to be more well-rested.

Sleep Does the Body Good

While this may seem obvious, the sensational part was in the sentence that followed: “Getting plenty of rest, which for young adults means 8–9 hours a night, helps your body stay healthy, inside and out.”

Eight to nine hours?? A night?? Not since elementary school. As someone who frequently gets three hours less than this minimum amount of sleep, I found this very hard to believe. Frankly, I have too much work to do for that — and I don’t just mean schoolwork.

According to an article by Rebecca Shragge in The California Aggie, sleep deprivation has been on the rise for college students. Shragge said that in a recent study of 1,125 students released by the Journal of Adolescent Health, 70 percent of college students get less than the eight hours of recommended sleep a night. I know for me this is because of job-related responsibilities and stress, and I’ve heard of other students who have similar problems.

Because of the rising costs of higher education, students have said they feel like they have to juggle being full-time students with holding down part-time or full-time jobs.

How Much Work is Too Much Work?

“I need the money to support myself and to save for a car that I need,” one student from Herkimer County Community College who works in her campus cafeteria said in response to a questionnaire. Another, who attends Mohawk Valley Community College and works at Lowe’s, followed up with similar sentiments: “I need the money, I have no other choice.”

Night shifts can be particularly tantalizing to college students because they have the allure of not getting in the way of morning college courses. Especially in college towns, business owners know that to make a good profit, they have to be open later hours. In Ithaca, N.Y., places like Collegetown Bagels, D.P. Dough and Insomnia Cookies are open until the wee hours of the morning, staffed by college kids.

Student working at the newspaper.
Ithaca College student Jack Curran works a late-night at The Ithacan to make sure the newspaper makes deadline.

In a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, Mark Nook, senior vice president for academic and student affairs for the University of Wisconsin, says a student should work a maximum of 20 hours per week to keep up with their schooling.

  • The HCCC student works Monday through Friday, beginning at 3 p.m. and not ending until close to 9 p.m. That’s at least 30 hours per week.
  • The MVCC student also works at least 30 hours per week, usually 3–11 p.m.
  • Another MVCC student works a seven-day-on-seven-day-off work schedule. He works from 10:30 p.m. until 7 a.m., and then goes to classes by 9 a.m. That’s almost 60 hours a week.

And these hours are virtually non-negotiable.

“I’ve tried to get less hours and have been given a lot of problems about it … others break under the pressure of what I do, and refuse to cover for me,” the HCCC student said.

The Hazards of Late-Night Working

As many people know, a lack of sleep can lead to various physical and mental health hazards, which can include:

  • Falling asleep during the day or at the wheel of a car
  • Decreased attention and memory troubles
  • Disruption of the metabolic system
  • Increased stress and depression

Matthew McCurdy, the full-time, 60hr/week MVCC student, agreed to speak to me about some of the challenges he personally feels with working a full-time job and being a student. Here’s a few of the most memorable quotes:

 

The other two students I interviewed expressed similar sentiments and admitted to having feelings of being stressed out from work.

“Work can be exhausting when it comes to dealing with customer issues,” the student worker from Lowe’s said. “After being yelled at all day and having stuff thrown at you, it becomes very stressful … I do believe the stress from work and school does get to me. I don’t have time to myself that often, because my life revolves around my school and work.”

According to the American Psychological Association, 95 percent of college counseling center directors surveyed said there was a growing concern for the number of students facing psychological problems.

How To Combat Life Stress

While it’s true that we can’t exactly cut out jobs and the need to have a steady income in college, there are a few things you can do to cut your stress levels and regulate your sleeping:

  1. Take a warm bath or shower, as the heat can help calm the nerves.
  2. Exercise. Exercise is a way to extinguish excess stresses and anxiety — take it out by working out.
  3. Reading a book. Reading is a way to escape into a new world for a few moments to take a break from real world issues.
  4. Take advantage of your time. Any free moment that you have, remember to take a deep breath. Try to schedule time for friends and personal reflection.
  5. Meditation to clear and focus the mind.
  6. Cut back on caffeinated products. Not only are they addictive, but they can also keep you wired while you’re trying to sleep.
  7. Use your bed just for sleeping. Do all of your studying, homework, etc. at a desk or table. This is to train your brain to sleep when you get into bed.
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