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 percent, 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.
Her advisor Dr. Michael Grandner, senior author of the study and director of the university’s Behavioral Sleep Medicine Clinic, told Reuters Health that the importance of sleep in mental health has been shown before.
But: ‘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, Grandner, 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.
In their analysis, insufficient sleep was linked to a 19 percent-29 percent increase in mental health symptoms.
Loneliness increased by 19 percent for each night of insufficient sleep, depressed mood increased by 21 percent, anxiety by 25 percent, desire to self-harm increased by 25 percent, suicidal thinking increased 28 percent and exhaustion increased 29 percent, among other symptoms evaluated. The researchers examined nearly 8,500 student-athletes as a subgroup and found similar associations.
Ramsey had suspected there might be 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,’ said Dr. Raman Malhotra, an associate professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, who was not involved in the research.
‘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.’
‘This study would suggest that healthcare 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,’ Malhotra told Reuters Health by email.