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Lack of Sleep Linked to Mental Health Problems for College Students

June 17, 2019

By Rob Goodier

NEW YORK—Poor sleep may be linked to a greater risk for poor mental health on college campuses, new research suggests.

With each night of insufficient sleep, the risk of mental health symptoms increased by roughly 20%, according to findings presented June 11 at Sleep 2019, the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

The findings suggest college students might benefit from sleep health education, lead author Thea Ramsey, an undergraduate at the University of Arizona in Tucson, told Reuters Health by email.

Her advisor Dr. Michael Grander, senior author of the study and director of the university's Behavioral Sleep Medicine Clinic, told Reuters Health that while the importance of sleep in mental health has been shown before, "Our study represents one of the largest to date that shows this link, and it shows that the more nights of insufficient sleep you get as a college student, the more likely that you will exhibit a wide range of mental health symptoms."

Ramsey and Grander and colleagues analyzed data from more than 110,000 students, acquired through the National College Health Assessment. They defined 'insufficient sleep' as the number of nights that students did not sleep enough to feel rested.

Analysis found insufficient sleep linked to a 19% to 29% increase in mental health symptoms. Loneliness increased by 19% for each night of insufficient sleep (odds ratio=1.19; p<0.0005), depressed mood increased by 21% (OR=1.21; p<0.0005), anxiety by 25% (OR=1.25; p<0.0005), desire to self-harm increased by 25% (OR=1.25; p<0.0005), suicide ideation increased 28% (OR=1.28; p<0.0005) and exhaustion increased 29% (OR=1.29; p<0.0005), among other symptoms evaluated.

The research examined nearly 8500 student athletes as a subgroup and found similar associations. Ramsey had hypothesized differences in athletes' response to insufficient sleep, but the data did not appear to bear that out.

"What I thought was striking was the number of students they were able to study and the strong relationship between insufficient sleep and multiple domains of mental health. This is an important finding as mental health problems are common in this age group, and unfortunately insufficient sleep is also very common in this group," said Dr. Raman Malhotra, Associate Professor of Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, who was not involved in the research.

"This study would suggest that health care providers and universities should put more emphasis on getting adequate amounts of sleep to not only help (with) overall physical health, but (also) mental health," Dr. Malhotra told Reuters Health by email.


Sleep 2019.

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