New research is finding that there is an alarming relationship between lack of sleep and serious mental health issues in collegiate students, including varsity athletes. The study is revealing that insufficient sleep is associated with all mental health conditions, particularly in athletes.
A wide variety of mental health symptoms
"It was really surprising to see how strongly insufficient sleep was associated with a wide variety of mental health symptoms among college students," said lead author Thea Ramsey, an undergraduate student at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
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"Also, it was intriguing that while student-athletes experienced on average fewer nights of insufficient sleep and better mental health, the relationship between insufficient sleep and mental health was as strong or stronger in athletes compared to non-athletes."
The research found that with every extra night of insufficient sleep, the chances of experiencing mental health symptoms increased on average by more than 20% - including an increased risk of 21% for depressed mood, 24% for hopelessness, 24% for anger, 25% for anxiety, 25% for desire to self-harm, 28% for functional problems, and 28% for suicide ideation. Insufficient sleep was defined as nights where students did not "get enough sleep so that you felt rested when you woke up."
Insufficient sleep common amongst students
Data for the study was collected from the 2011-2014 waves of the National College Health Assessment, conducted by the American College Health Association. The research looked at 110,496 individuals, including 8,462 varsity athletes.
"The fact that sleep health was so strongly related to mental health is important since the majority of college students don't get the recommended amount of sleep needed for optimal health and functioning," said senior author Michael Grander, Ph.D., advisor to Ramsey and director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Clinic at the University of Arizona.
"So, these young adults aren't sleeping enough, and not only does that increase their likelihood for things like worse academic performance and health, but it also takes a toll on their mental health as well."
Insufficient sleep is a condition that often plagues students particularly athletes. However, sleep is essential to all aspects of well being and is associated with everything from weight gain to critical health conditions.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults 18 years and older sleep seven hours or more per night. The research abstract was published in an online supplement of the journal Sleep.