Sleep, the Never-Ending Quest of College Students: Effects of a Semester Long Sleep Course on Sleep Patterns and Daytime Functioning

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Sleep occupies one-third of the human lifespan and plays a crucial role in physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being. Among college students, a wealth of research confirms dangerously high rates of inadequate sleep. Inadequate sleep in this population is routinely linked with low GPA, mood disturbances, and other behavioral risks. As a result, many colleges and universities now offer sleep education programs for students. Such programs are typically brief (e.g., one hour) and focus primarily on sleep hygiene. Studies examining the effectiveness of these programs have reported mixed results with mostly small effect sizes for changes in sleep knowledge. However, changes in sleep-related behaviors and patterns have not been found. This study aimed to assess the effectiveness of a semester-long course focused on sleep in improving college students' sleep patterns and behaviors. The study had two specific aims: (1) to evaluate changes in sleep patterns among students enrolled in a sleep course compared to students in other psychology courses, and (2) to assess changes in sleep hygiene behaviors among sleep course students compared to those enrolled in other courses. Participants included undergraduate students enrolled in an upper-level psychology course focused entirely on sleep (n = 105) or other upper-level psychology courses without sleep content (n = 54) but requiring the same pre-requisite coursework. The sleep course met in-person twice per week for 90 minutes. Major topics covered included the neurobiology of sleep, sleep-wake regulation, measurement of sleep, sleep hygiene, specific sleep disorders, and sleep relationships with learning, memory, mental and physical health. Students in the sleep course were not asked or required to alter their sleep during the semester. All participants completed identical one-week sleep logs at the same four time points during the semester. Results showed that students in the sleep course significantly increased their total sleep time by an average of about 25 minutes across the semester whereas sleep duration did not significantly change in the control group. Additionally, only the sleep course group showed significant decreases in sleep onset latency, nighttime awakenings, and daytime naps across the semester, though these changes were modest. Conversely, the control group but not the sleep course group showed a significant decrease in pre-sleep use of electronics from the beginning to the end of the semester. These findings highlight the potential benefits of a semester-long course for improving college students' sleep patterns and behaviors. These results, along with findings from previous studies, suggest that college students likely require greater understanding of the importance of sleep along with opportunity to modify unhealthy sleep patterns in order improve their sleep health. A semester-long course that includes lectures, discussion, homework assignments, tests, and self-assessment dedicated to sleep pattern may provide students with necessary support for making positive sleep changes as compared to brief seminars. Future studies employing objective measures of sleep and examining secondary effects of sleep-related changes in daytime functioning and academic performance among students enrolled in sleep courses are needed.

Sleep, College, Sleep Patterns, Daytime Functioning