School stress leads to insomniac behaviours for students

Remember those days when your parents or caretakers would say “nap time” and you would cringe and try to fight against it? Now when you think back to that time, you just pray someone would tell you to get some rest without worrying about anything. The only problem is, with all the workload and things going on in your life, can you fall asleep?

As children, many of us never understood that sleep was one of those important resources meant to keep us healthy, mentally sharp, and help us cope with stress.

“Insomnia can lead to serious impairment in your daily life, impacting your ability to perform your best at work, maintaining relationships, and engaging in activities you used to enjoy,” said Jennifer Monforton, a psychotherapist at The Mindfulness Clinic in Toronto.

She provides training in treating individuals struggling with insomnia, anxiety, and depression.

Although stress can physically and emotionally impact people of all ages, it is particularly concerning for post-secondary students.

According to a study released by the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services, students are too busy being overwhelmed, stressed, and exhausted by their academic careers.

Ahmed Rahman, a first-year Computer Science student at UOIT, said the maximum hours of sleep he gets now has shrunk by at least four hours from when he first started post-secondary.

“In the beginning of first year, things were perfectly fine, but as the year went by, the workload got heavy, and just the stress kept me awake for long periods at night,” Rahman said.

A cross-sectional study by Western University, involving 1,025 Canadian college students revealed poor quality of sleep, which is usually less than eight hours, is associated with higher level of stress.

Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension from different types of circumstances. Insomnia is a common sleep disorder in which people have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or both.

According to researchers, stress can be increased by participation in risky behaviours that are common amongst post-secondary students. Some of them include alcohol use, binge drinking, unprotected sex, and drug use, according to the study.

Stress affects many students at Durham College and UOIT.

Remya Shenumagam, a third-year Nursing student, said she was close to dropping out of college.

“It was just too stressful, with all the course content, and my job. It was really hard to balance things out,” Shenumagam said. “I did want to drop out midway through first-year, but I guess I hoped things would get better.”

Shenumagam quit her job and is solely focusing on her studies, which leaves her more time to sleep.

According to the Western University study, students often experience disoriented sleep patterns that leave them sleep deprived. These sleep patterns include short sleeping time, inconsistent sleep and wake schedule, late bed and rise times, and poor sleep quality.

“Sleep difficulties can also lead to feelings of low mood, helplessness, and hopelessness,” said Monforton.

“I do wish I can get more sleep, but I guess post-secondary means less than five hours of sleep,” said Taylor Richards, second-year Business Management student at UOIT. “I guess less workload would help, but I’m just waiting for the summer break now.”

The National Sleep Foundation offers tips for students on how to maintain a healthy sleep schedule. It suggests it’s better to start following a consistent sleep schedule before the school year starts and maintain it throughout the year.

Psychotherapists such as Monforton also offer help.

“My approach will teach you to alter behaviours that interfere with sleep to challenge on helpful beliefs on sleep, and to engage in mindful exercises to promote focus and relaxation,” she said.

Students can also find help on campus by visiting the Mental Health Services located in the Campus Recreation and Wellness Centre.