Words of wisdom are passed down from people who have “been there,” to others who are “going there.” There are many pursuits that create a perfect situation for seasoned individuals to educate and illuminate others who are about to embark on similar paths of self-betterment. One of these open doors is the entrance into college living and survival.
Every new college students has the thought, “it’s only four years.” The truth is, it’s four years with an unbelievable amount of personal and academic stress that is virtually unfathomable without proper health intact, and a reasonable grip on personal boundaries. The average college student will encounter academic and social demands that pay little homage to physiological necessities and biological truths. In short, college life will certainly put a test on the limits of personal energy, and will pull individual fortitude into realms that the student never thought was possible.
An average college student will take between 12 and 20 credit hours of course loads. This means, classes each day requiring attendance from the hours of 7:30 AM, to 8:00 PM. Each course will be designed by professors who do not necessarily coordinate their schedules with one another, and encompass a modicum of outside research work. An average undergraduate student can expect to spend at least 14 hours Monday through Friday attending classes, using the campus library, and participating in study time with fellow major field peers each day. Of course, it’s only for four years, right?
On top of required attendance times, at least four to six hours each day will be required to complete assignments for classes, and finalize project deadlines. This amounts to about 18-20 hours each day that a dedicated college student will be required to give in order to complete a moderate-to-heavy workload resulting in completion of a degree on a standard timeline.
Let’s not forget the overwhelming ability of college life to create situations where non-academic activities overwhelm the senses and captivate desires. Parties, sporting events, dorm activities, outings, and lounging in the dorm recreation area seem to always rob students of valuable time. These extracurriculars are so inviting, and they seem to call whenever a student can least afford time outside of strict study. Nevertheless, they always call!
The summation of regular class obligations and extra fun, statistically, will compose 18-20 hours of a normal college student’s day. This leaves anywhere from 4-6 hours for rest and sleep. Again, college students tend to rationalize this low amount of rest with the fact that college only lasts for four years.
US military studies have proven that sleep deprivation can occur in individuals in as little time as one month. Sleep deprivation can cause a litany of health concerns, the least of which is a lowered ability to function at a cognitive peak. Other concerns include a propensity to common sicknesses, irritability, decreased appetites, general body fatigue, and a lowered sex drive (this should be a stern warning to college students).
The same military studies have shown that overcoming sleep deprivation is almost as difficult as the stages that lead to acquiring it. Overcoming and compensating for sleep deprivation requires a minimum of 10 consecutive days of 9-12 hours of uninterrupted REM sleep. This does not mean naps between classes, and it doesn’t mean hours passed-out after a frat kegger. These studies suggest that once a person enters into a state of brain-altering sleep deprivation, it could take radical lifestyle shifts to bring the brain and psyche back into normal function.
How do these studies affect college students? They are an imperative to adopt rest and stress management techniques at the start of any college career. Don’t wait for the summer months to take a break. These months will likely be arrested because of a job that pays for subsequent semesters. Incorporate healthy practices on the first day of class.
First, try to find a dorm that is quiet and occupied by individuals who appreciate study time and routines that reflect normal living situations. Greek living is virtual volunteering for little rest. Second, learn to not procrastinate. When assignments are given, complete them as quickly as possible. Compounded workloads because of procrastination only contribute to weeks of unmanageable stress. Third, party only on the weekends. A few hours spent with friends can easily be countered with sleep on Sunday, while leaving plenty of time to complete assignments. Finally, eat well, and don’t develop bad habits. All substance abuse and dietary problems will affect the quality of sleep in college living situations.
Even with a harrowing schedule and active social life, college students can benefit from sleep. The key is balance and understanding how the body reacts to stressors and down time. Yes, college is only four years, but habits learned during these four years will continue into the rest of life. This includes good and bad habits. Learn to dedicate energy to the things that require it most. These include classes, research, paper prep work, and entering into restful, quality sleep whenever possible.