Why Are College Students So Tired?
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Health and Wellness

Why Are College Students So Tired?

How do you pay about off three years of sleep debt? Asking for a friend.

Why Are College Students So Tired?
Steve Debenport

Unless one is particularly devoted to performing at the peak of his or her physicality throughout college, chances are a person is going to experience fatigue more than just a few times before receiving a diploma and being released into the great beyond. The college student is no stranger to exhaustion throughout (and even between) the academic year, myself included. I have almost a month left of summer vacation before my senior year begins, and it seems that no matter how many or how few hours I sleep each night, I'm still tired, constantly and without fail. There's no telling how many days of sleep debt I've accrued over the past three years nor how many I am set to collect in the years of graduate school to come. As for now, I'm just trying to make sense of why we college students are so damned tired all the time.

Lack of Sleep?

According to a study done by the University of Virginia Tech, most college students are affected by a type of fatigue called physiologic fatigue, which is induced by "overwork, lack of sleep, or a defined physical stress such as pregnancy." The study reports that this type of fatigue, which is observed normally in mentally and physically healthy individuals, can affect students because they often possess variable sleep patterns due to the stress of mountains of due dates, extracurriculars and demanding job schedules. The article goes on to mention a couple other types of fatigue, including that of a combined nature, which affects the college student who has stretched him or herself far too thin and attempted to hold that position for a number of semesters. What the study calls "mixed fatigue" takes into account not only the workload and credit hours of a particular student but also his or her psychological state and history, current and past medical state and lifestyle. "Lifestyle" here denotes the student's tendency to drink alcohol and do drugs as well as his or her eating and sleeping habits. The author notes that his practice sees many a young person toting this type of fatigue with no idea why he or she is exhausted day in and day out.

Upon reading about mixed fatigue, it occurred to me that college students' exhaustion could be linked to more than just the simple lack of sleep. I also realized that the student suffering from mixed fatigue above sounded a lot like many of the current situations of students at my own college. There are students taking nineteen or twenty credit hours, working full-time jobs, volunteering, helping with professors' research and holding leadership positions on campus. These students are heralded as the ideal at Berry College, and while I, too, look up to those individuals, I have found myself on more than one occasion worrying about how the atmosphere created by the college and simultaneously upheld by the students can negatively affect students' overall health. Mixed fatigue resulting from disease in multiple areas can affect a person for months at a time (or years, if untreated), and this led me to think about my own situation as well as that of the more involved students at my undergraduate institution, Berry College. If we truly are exhausted because we are so involved, what can a student do to reduce fatigue, no matter the type?


Most of the lifestyle articles you'll find when you Google an answer for the above question mention an increase in physical activity, more quality sleep and eating better, among other things. It seems the only true treatment to overcome any fatigue is true rest. Rest for the body, mind and spirit. In the Virginia Tech study, the author also mentions a reduction in excessive activities as a part of said rest, but for the Berry College student that just can't seem to quit, what does real rest entail? Here's what I have gathered.

First, pay a visit to your physician or a local physician, and let him or her know the symptoms of fatigue you're experiencing and their severity. From what you say paired with an examination, the doctor may be able to help you take the first step toward feeling less tired. If your exhaustion is physiologically linked, diagnostic tests can usually pick this up, and medicines may be prescribed to combat whatever physical disease has manifested. Many college students' tests return without a trace of physical disease, though, which might be a blessing in some ways. If the fatigue is determined to stem from sleep disorder, a mild sleep aid might be suggested in combination with a more relaxed schedule for a time. If the individual is affected by a psychological disorder that might contribute to fatigue, the physician will most likely prescribe a corresponding medication for a period of time and recommend a few counseling sessions over a number of weeks. But what if fatigue's origin is not physiological or psychological?

Sit down with your schedule or planner, if you have one. Look over your activities for the week: class, work, club meetings, leadership meetings, religious activities, outings with friends. As of right now, in your physical and mental state, what isn't serving you? It's wonderful to be involved, but are all these responsibilities absolutely necessary? Try eliminating just one or two of the weekly club meetings or nights out, trading them for an hour split into meditation, reading (not textbooks), yoga, writing or your nightly bedtime ritual. Be gentle with yourself. You are working hard, but there comes a time when we all need to bow to the needs of our body, mind and soul. All those responsibilities will be there when you return from your rest, or maybe a ritual of true rest will inspire you to remove those responsibilities that are not of the utmost importance in your life. Pay attention to the signals your body is giving you. That intuition is something our ancestors knew quite well, and in a society that has taught us to ignore it, we can slowly but surely learn to hear it's suggestions once again. When it comes to fatigue, these are signals we cannot afford to overlook.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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