Not getting enough of sleep is one of the most difficult life changes we face when coming to college. Pulling all-nighters (sometimes with the help of energy drinks and coffee) has become a staple of college culture. It seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything completed, and staying up late becomes the only option to combat the large workload being placed upon us. Obviously not getting enough of sleep has physical consequences, such as waking up tired the next morning, but what about psychological consequences? Does sleep deprivation affect our mental health?
There was a study conducted in 2010 that tried to come
to a conclusion of whether or not lack of sleep had a relationship with depression or depressive-like symptoms. Questionnaires were sent to 1,100 (18-22-year-old) student mailboxes at a women’s college with questions that asked about their sleeping habits. This is an observational study because the scientists are not changing the lifestyles of the students, they are merely asking questions about their sleep schedules. Examples of some of the questions found on this two-page questionnaire were the students’ bedtimes, consumption of caffeine, time they wake up, and if they experience sleepiness during the daytime. Levels of depression were based on the CES-D and HAM-D scales.
They found that the women who went to bed at 2:00 a.m. or later showed depression tendency scores higher than those of the women who reported bedtimes before 2:00 a.m. The scientists also discovered that those students who consumed an average of two cups of coffee or more a day, tended to fall asleep at 2:00 a.m. or later. The mechanism behind this is that coffee contains caffeine and that can make you less tired, causing your bedtimes to be prolonged. Alcohol and tobacco products (confounding variables) were also reported to affect sleeping patterns through disrupting sleep and/or oversleeping. Lack of sleep, the scientists found, shows a positive correlation with melancholic depressive symptoms. Chronic sleep disruptions are a sign of melancholic depression, and so it is not surprising that students who went to bed at 2:00 a.m. or later showed higher levels of this disease.
Reverse causation is possible here because those that suffer from depression can have a lack of sleep due of feelings of anxiety or distress. Confounding variables such as type of major, workload, and social pressures could also create sleeping patterns that result in higher levels of depression. It would be valuable to know what the cut-off for the amount of sleep a person should get each night so that they lower the risk of having this disease. Also, this study only analyzes the habits of women and it would be interesting to compare results from a co-ed or male focused study to see if there is any variance. Although correlation does not equal causation, this study (despite its smaller size), does show that there seems to be a strong correlation between lack of sleep and signs of depression. After reviewing this study, I will be more mindful about my sleeping patterns and avoid habitually going to bed at 2:00 a.m. or later.