Healthy Living

Are College Students Actually Sleeping MORE Than We Thought?

Some might be -- but it's still probably not as much as they need.
New data that analyzed sleep habits of college students who wear Jawbone’s UP fitness trackers found students actually sleep as much as 7 hours a night on average -- but experts say that still is probably not enough.
New data that analyzed sleep habits of college students who wear Jawbone’s UP fitness trackers found students actually sleep as much as 7 hours a night on average -- but experts say that still is probably not enough.

Parties, term papers and a barrage of reading assignments mixes up a recipe for disaster when it comes to sleep habits for college students -- and research has showed sleep among this demographic is not good. Previous studies have suggested as many as 70 percent of college students get insufficient sleep. But new data released today that analyzed sleep habits of college-age users of Jawbone’s UP fitness tracker suggests otherwise.

Jawbone looked at sleep data from college-age users who wear the company’s UP fitness trackers and found that they actually average just over 7 hours of sleep per night on weekdays and 7.38 hours on weekend nights. The data comes from 18,498 college-age users from 137 schools across the country who wear the device -- and accounts for 1.44 million nights of sleep data logged by those individuals between 2013 and 2016.

The subjects all identified themselves as being between the ages of 18 and 22 -- information they gave Jawbone as part of their devices' set up process -- and were checked in on a college campus for at least two months of any of the academic years the data were collected.

On average, women went to bed earlier than their male peers and slept less (22 minutes less on weeknights and 28 minutes less on weekend nights), according to the data.

Here are four more illuminating points about the research:

1. People at high-achieving schools tended to have later bedtimes

The data analytics team at Jawbone was also able to separate out sleep data for each school with UP wearers reporting data. They compared that data to the U.S. News and World Report’s 2016 college ranking data and found that the tougher the school, according to the U.S. News ranking, the later the average college-age UP wearer at that school goes to bed.

Previous unrelated research has also suggested students with night owl tendencies (i.e. those who went to bed later and woke up later) had higher GPAs and scored higher on mental reasoning tests than their peers who went to bed earlier and woke up earlier -- though the individuals in that study were all between 12 and 16 years old.

2. Still, 7 hours may not be enough sleep

While the data from Jawbone may be encouraging, considering that previous research has found that some students sleep only 5.7 hours a night on average. But Neil Kline, a sleep physician and director of the American Sleep Association, points out that even this higher number isn't sufficient.

“There is much data that suggests that this age group needs more than seven or 7.5 hours of sleep on average per night,” Kline told The Huffington Post.

People at this age probably need closer to eight hours of sleep, he said. “Every person is different. While some people may only need seven hours, other may need nine hours of sleep in order to be well rested."

Indeed, studies have found eight hours is needed for optimal cognitive performance. And the aforementioned research that found that 70 percent of college students get insufficient sleep used eight hours as a benchmark -- meaning that a lot of the students whose sleep was recorded for the Jawbone data would have also been categorized as getting insufficient sleep.

3. The data doesn’t include naps

Another caveat, Kline said, is that the data doesn’t include naps. “My hunch is that nap time is an important missing piece of information from the conclusion of this study.”

Total daytime sleep -- napping -- tends to be difficult to account for because naps can be short and easily forgotten, he said. But they do affect total sleep.

“It is very possible (and likely) that this population is taking naps,” Kline added.

4. Fitness-tracking students aren't exactly the norm

It's also important to note that the data from Jawbone comes from college-age people who purchased and used Jawbone UP fitness tracking devices. Though the data came from colleges and universities across the country, the participants in this research do not necessarily make up a representative sample of college students in terms of demographics, socioeconomic status or lifestyle factors. And the argument could be made that the individuals who decided to buy and wear a fitness tracker may be more mindful of their health and may make a conscious effort to sleep more than other people this age.

The only factors the Jawbone analysis was able to take into account when looking at the data were gender and school.

Clarification: This article has been updated to reflect that users of Jawbone UP devices, as part of its terms of service, allow the company to access aggregate data, and that the data for this study was not volunteered specifically for this analysis. The company looked at age and location to identify college-age users, but does not have specific information about whether they are enrolled as students.

Sarah DiGiulio is The Huffington Post’s sleep reporter. You can contact her at sarah.digiulio@huffingtonpost.com.

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