Not Enough Hours in the Day: Work Study Students and Sleep

Picture a college student. What is she doing? My guess is, most of you have a mental image of either a raucous party or a frantic cram session. One thing you probably aren't picturing is her sleeping. While this picture isn't 100% accurate, it is correct as far as sleep is concerned. The University Health Center reports that "On average, most college students get 6 - 6.9 hours of sleep per night, and the college years are notoriously sleep-deprived due to an overload of activities." This is especially bad news for academics, as a 2012 study in the Journal of Child Development asserts that "sleep and learning are inextricably linked."

The issue of lack of sleep is compounded in the case of work study students. While many students do work while on campus, for this group of students, it is a requirement for them to attend their universities. While only 6% of students participate in the Federal Work Study Program, approximately 20 million students attend college in the United States, so the policies of this program, and their enforcement, affect 1.2 million students nationwide.

In addition to having to work while on campus, these students are required to find their own job, or jobs as the case may be, as many jobs will not dole out enough hours for students to meet their quota. In addition, once at these jobs, the students are also subject to some of the same pitfalls as those who work in the private sector. Take my own university, Wesleyan, for example. In 2014, an article in the Argus was published stating that "Farias, [an administrator], determined last year that nearly 80 students work above the recommended 20-hour limit, with some working up to 40 hours in a single week." These students were working a full-time job, while attending classes, doing homework, attending extracurricular events and finding internships and jobs for after graduation. I can't imagine sleeping a full eight hours on top of that.

I spoke to a work study student at Wesleyan who has chosen to remain anonymous. The student attends class full-time in addition to two on-campus jobs that he had to find for himself and coordinates on a weekly basis. His average night's sleep numbers less than even the University Health Center report, and he claims to only get a full night's sleep twice a week, at most. When asked about his lack of sleep's effect on his performance in class, he reported he was sometimes "so tired that [he is] unable to pay attention in class and end[s] up missing notes..."

Another problem sleep affects is that of belonging. Many students on work-study are low-income or first-generation students already stressed out about merely existing on campus, especially at elite universities where they are even more likely to feel alienated. These students face challenges such as being "weeded out of friendships based on what [they] could afford," and being "asked... to state their social class to spark [class] discussion." No one should have to face these indignities, and after a sleepless night, they seem especially intimidating.

So, let's return to that picture of a college student. If they're on work study, they're probably not doing that keg stand too often. They are doing the cram session though, and shelving books, and working at a counter, and trying to find a job, and trying to fit in. One thing they probably aren't doing much, however, is sleeping.