Impaired: How Burning the Candle at Both Ends Affects a College Student’s Intellect

burned out student

Anyone who is or who has ever been in college knows it’s not the most restful place in the world. There are a million reasons why college kids sleep poorly: loud raucous dorms, late-night study sessions, parties that never end, board-like twin beds, early morning classes, caffeine, nicotine, all of the other illicit drugs in the world, stress, homesickness, and heartbreak, to name a few. It’s a time when sleep seems like the least important thing in the world and yet it’s probably the most important time for a young person to sleep. Intellectually, college is endlessly demanding. It requires focus, determination, and organization—skills that don’t necessarily come naturally. Then there are all of the emotional and social demands of college life: the new friends, romantic entanglements, and the inevitable dramas of both. Unfortunately, a lack of sleep can cause problems across the board. Here’s how.

The Intelligence Quotient (IQ)

According to CBS News, for each hour of sleep (less than 8 hours) a person loses, he loses a point off of his IQ. Worse yet, the effect is cumulative. So, if you have a perfectly normal IQ of 100 but sleep only 6 hours a night for a full week, you’ll have an IQ of 86 by the end of the week. This is well below average and will affect your ability to reason,  handle complex tasks, and make important decisions.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

According to a study at Walter Reed, sleep deprivation is closely linked with a diminished emotional intelligence. This means, sleep deprived people are less able to face difficult emotional challenges. They relate poorly to others and lack empathy, a critical element of healthy and productive human interaction. These people also have trouble with behavioral coping, positive thinking mechanisms that allow us to paint our troubles constructively. This is all bad news for those social challenges I mentioned earlier. And, if a college student is struggling socially, he will most definitely be struggling academically. It’s difficult to focus on schoolwork when you’re feeling depressed, lonely, angry, and unhappy. Additionally, EQ is necessary for understanding complex interpersonal ideas, a key component of classic literature, psychology, history, and the dramatic arts.

night life

Genius Never Sleeps

There is a pervasive myth in our culture that geniuses don’t sleep. This is a dangerous misstatement of the truth. In fact, people who are highly creative and driven are often also highly anxious. It’s the anxiety not the genius that keeps them awake. When I was in college, it was considered a badge of honor to stay up all night. In a culture where sleeplessness is respected, students feel social pressure to push their bodies to the limit. As we’ve seen, that’s not good for their health or their performance. So don’t listen to the hype, replace that hard twin bed with a natural mattress, and turn out the lights. Sweet dreams.

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