Sarah has covered news topics for digital and print publications. She has a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Nevada.
The transition to remote learning in the wake of COVID-19 impacted students in various ways, but a new study from Arizona State University illustrates the unique effect it had on U.S. college students.
Spanning from January to May of 2020, more than 150 incoming college freshmen tracked their sleep and stress levels by responding to a bi-weekly questionnaire that assessed sleep duration and quality, as well as stress levels. While students’ sleep quality briefly improved during the onset of remote learning, there was a clear decline over the course of the remaining spring semester.
Researchers attribute the short-term increases in sleep quality to the novelty of remote learning — no more commuting to class, a break from social obligations and more time at home to take care of personal matters.
However, the long-term decreases in sleep quality identified by this study were attributed to the increased stress and concern over COVID-19 cases and a deprivation of social interaction.
Students were also asked to report “stress perception,” which indicates how an individual perceives a situation. This was a notable area that researchers saw increase over the course of the spring semester.
Specific student demographics showed higher detrimental outcomes during the course of the study. Those who identified as female and students who reported lower socioeconomic status experienced increased stress perception and worse sleep quality at the transition to distance learning.
In addition, almost 60% of college students report decreasing food security as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Given the added evidence of stress exposure and its impact on sleep noted by the study, researchers suggest that universities and institutions may promote students’ long-term sleep quality by considering structural reforms — financial aid, mental health resources, and stress coping classes, to name a few.
Almost 40% of college students report poor sleep quality on a regular basis, and first-year students experience the shortest sleep duration — particularly on weekdays. Shortened sleep duration and poorer sleep quality can be linked to adverse effects that impede on academic performance. This reason alone makes the case for a greater understanding of how pandemic-era learning affects the sleep and health of college students.