Academic Minute Podcast

Roxanne Prichard, University of St. Thomas – Changing Students Lives Through Better Sleep

On University of St. Thomas Week: Sleep can have a big impact on college students.

Roxanne Prichard, professor of psychology, explores why.

Roxanne Prichard received her BA in biopsychology and women’s studies from Transylvania University and her PhD in neuroscience from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research focuses on sleep as a modifiable protective factor for student success and well-being. She served on the NCAA Taskforce for Sleep and Wellbeing, and regularly consults with universities and other organizations about ways to improve policies, practices and facilities to promote healthier sleep.

Changing Students Lives Through Better Sleep

The adolescent mental health crisis could have a surprisingly simple remedy: help students get better sleep. Most of today’s college students have been sleep-deprived since puberty. Between their natural adolescent delay in circadian rhythm, the too early school start times, economic pressures and grind culture, students have normalized feeling exhausted.

This comes with a steep price: anxiety, depression, sickness, and burnout. Being constantly tired also means not investing energy in things like nurturing relationships and finding purpose and passion.

Our research found that when life’s inevitable stressors show up— lost jobs, breakups, grief- those who can sleep well will be less likely to have suicidal thoughts. Shakespeare’s Macbeth says it best: Sleep that “balm of hurt minds, chief nourisher in life’s feast..”

The good news is that there are many opportunities for colleges to improve the sleep environment. They can rethink the timing of sports practices, library hours, or when assignments are due. They can improve residence halls by installing light blocking shades. They can provide safe places for hard-working commuter students to nap. They can screen for sleep problems in students who are struggling. These are the easy fixes.

Some threats to sleep are harder to solve. We found that victims of sexual violence and discrimination have higher rates of insomnia. Improving the social environment is critical but requires the careful work of culture change. These are problems we must address so that students can protect their mental health through good sleep.

Read More:
[Taylor & Francis Online] – Sleep quality mediates the relationship between traumatic events, psychological distress, and suicidality in college undergraduates


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