Effect of Sleep Disorder on College Students’ Stress

Introduction

Among individuals, stress has been known to affect daily activities. Stress can negatively affect an individual’s health and function if it is not managed appropriately (1). Studies show that stress can be affected by many factors such as adjusting to a new environment, chronic work overload, taking multiple courses, and insufficient sleep (2,3). For college students, stress is a common factor that is difficult to avoid or manage.

Nowadays college students have to deal with high levels of stress because they are either taking multiple courses while trying to adjust to a new environment and learn to live on their own. With the rising cost of college level education, college students are more susceptible to stress because they are taking multiple courses while trying to work a part or full time job in order to pay for their school expenses. One study has shown that among college students, there is an increased amount of stress among first year college students (4).

This increased stress could be due to first year college students having to juggle multiple tasks on a daily basis. More time from their day is taken up because of the number of tasks they have to take on. First year college students having more tasks and very little time leads to lack of sleep which could be a reason for the increased levels of stress. A greater work load, lack of sleep, and poor stress management can affect an individual’s or in this case a first year college student’s overall health (1). It is said that the average amount of sleep among an individual is eight hours, which is not ideal for most first year college students. One study has shown that on average college students get about 5.7 hours of sleep per night, which is much less than the average sleep duration for this population (5).

Sleep duration is a major factor that can either negatively or positively affect an individual on a daily basis. For first year college students, lack of sleep is more common because they have to deal with a greater amount of course work and a job. More first year college students are opting to sacrifice sleep duration in order to fulfill their every day tasks. Poor sleep management or lack of sleep can affect a first year college student’s performance or diminish their function, which could lead to increased levels of stress (6).

There are many studies on the effects of poor sleep and stress management as independent variables. These studies mainly focused on how it affects an individual’s function and health. Unfortunately, these studies do not show the relationship between sleep duration and stress levels among individuals or a population. The aim of this study is to explore the relationship between sleep duration and stress levels among first year college students, which will be addressed using an experimental design approach during a four month duration (one academic semester). The health belief model, in particular the perceived benefits construct, will be utilized to explore the effects of how increased sleep duration can lead to decreased stress levels among first year college students.

Methods

Target Population

Participants who are eligible for the study will be college students who are in their first year of their undergraduate degree.

Recruitment Process

To find participants eligible for the study, participating first year college students will answer a survey that will include questions regarding their sleep duration, self reported stress level, age, employment status, academic enrollment status, health status, and sleep disorder. The survey will ask “how much sleep do you get per night?” which participants can choose less than five hours, between five and eight hours, or greater than eight hours. The survey will ask “how stressed do you feel?” which participants can choose low stress, moderate stress, or high stress. The survey will ask “what is your age?” which participants can choose 18-24, 25-29, 30-34, 35-39, or 40 or over. The survey will ask “what is your employment status?” which participants can choose not employed, part time, or full time. The survey will ask “what is your academic enrollment status?” which participants can choose part time or full time. The survey will ask “what is your health status?” which participants can choose unhealthy, normal, or healthy. The survey will ask “do you have a sleep disorder?” which participants can answer either yes or no. Aside from self-reporting their stress level, participants will take a cortisol test to determine their exact stress level prior to the study.

Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria

Participants who are academically enrolled full time, work a part or full time job, and maintain a good health status will be included in the study. Participants who are academically enrolled part time, not employed, maintain an unhealthy status, and/or have a medically documented sleep disorder will be excluded from the study. Variables There are two identified variables for the study:

  1. sleep duration and
  2. stress level.

Sleep duration is the independent variable in this study, which will be measured using a sleep tracking application. The sleep tracking application will be able to track sleep duration and patterns such as time spent awake, time in a light sleep, and time in a deep sleep (7). Stress level is the dependent variable in this study, which participants will self-report on a daily basis. At the end of the duration of the study, participants will take a cortisol test to determine their exact stress level.

Analysis

For the analyses, the frequency and percentage of sleep duration among first year college students will be calculated based on each age group. A linear regression model will be used to analyze the association between sleep duration and stress levels based on multiple categories, which include age, employment status, and health status.

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