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Study analyzes sleeplessness in Notre Dame students

| Monday, April 16, 2018

After nearly three years of analyzing the sleep, activity and social patterns of nearly 700 students with Fitbit and iPhone technologies, Notre Dame’s NetHealth study revealed that Notre Dame students are even more sleep deprived than expected. The study also discovered a surprising correlation regarding morning classes and GPA.

“One of the reasons [students] are missing an early morning class is to keep sleeping,” David Hachen, the lead sociologist of NetHealth, said. “People that are missing classes to get more sleep may be the ones that are doing better in the class. In general we see a relationship between more sleep and GPA.”

NetHealth found the average weeknight sleep for Notre Dame students to be between 6.5 and 6.7 hours per night, which is even less than previously thought, Hachen said.

A national study conducted by Jawbone in 2016 ranked Notre Dame as fourth on the list of colleges in the nation whose students get the least amount of sleep on weekdays, coming in at 6.69 hours. Notre Dame fell just short of Columbia University, which took home the bronze at 6.68 hours.

The Jawbone estimate is at the top end of NetHealth’s preliminary range, Hachen said. The lower end of NetHealth’s spectrum, 6.5 hours, would’ve bumped Notre Dame up to the third most sleepless campus in the nation – only 1 minute and 48 seconds behind the Air Force Academy in second. In addition, Jawbone’s 2016 sleep study showed college students in general sleep less than seven hours on 46.2 percent of the nights recorded in the study.

Six hours and some change may sound manageable to a group of determined scholars, but sleep expert and associate psychology professor Jessica Payne assured that it is not.

“Statistically, that’s sleep deprived,” Payne said. “The vast majority of people need to get somewhere between seven and nine hours a night, aiming to get eight on average.”

Senior Keenan Centlivre said he tries to avoid sleep deprivation with an unorthodox sleep schedule — sleeping in smaller increments at any time of day or night, as long as it adds up to an amount he feels is sufficient.

“I used to average five to six hours but now it’s definitely more like seven to eight,” Centlivre said. ”Being a part-time senior has done me some good. Many people prioritize their sleep and keep it more or less on a regimented schedule. I don’t really care about when I get sleep as long as I get it when I feel like I need it.”

Senior Erin McCune said she has a more regular sleep schedule, but it’s not exempt from stress.

“I definitely get less sleep if I have a lot of studying to do but try to never go under four hours,” McCune said.

Previously a fellow at Harvard, Payne said she observed an interesting difference between the Harvard and Notre Dame student bodies on topics such as stress.

“Even coming from Harvard, Notre Dame students seem to be even more overwhelmed and overworked because they have not one, but two majors, tons of extracurricular activities; sports, music and tons of volunteer work,” Payne said. “What I worry about is the high stress and poor sleep because it can predict depression and anxiety.”

Susan Steibe-Pasalich, director of the University Counseling Center, said she has also observed this trend over her 35 years at Notre Dame.

“It does seem to me that for students at Notre Dame, there is a perfectionism piece; for the majority having worked really hard in high school,” Steibe-Pasalich said. “They are used to being the best and striving the hardest.”

Steibe-Pasalich said 1700 students took advantage of the UCC’s mental health services last year, and the top reason for seeking that help was anxiety.

“Depression had been the most frequent leaning problem that brought student to counseling centers until 10 years ago,” Steibe-Pasalich said. “Anxiety evened out with depression, and then anxiety edged up a bit and took the lead.”

Payne said for students and faculty wanting to improve their sleep, a sleep kit complete with lavender spray, a sleep mask and a 21-day online sleep program is available for pickup at McWell’s in St. Liam’s.

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About Alex Daugherty

I am a senior student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame majoring in Marketing and minoring in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy. I originally hail from Seattle, my favorite smell is coffee, and there are few things I love more than putting together a sentence.

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