Insomnia: The Grad Student’s Disorder

By Jessica Hochstadt

For graduate students, a cup of coffee and blood-shot eyes are like a school uniform. These accessories make a statement; they say “I got no sleep last night!” Without these, people might question your status as a grad student, because everyone knows, grad students don’t sleep.

Grad students have readings to complete, seminars to attend, group meetings to schedule, and exams to to take. They have papers to write, jobs to do, and futures to worry about. At the end of the day (or start of the morning), a grad student might hit the hay, but this does not guarantee he/she will fall asleep.

Depending on the time of year, any number of the following thoughts will keep a graduate student awake: finding an internship, securing a job, leasing an apartment (I could continue, but I’m starting to get anxious). I wish I could say that these sleep patterns will change after graduation, but there is no guarantee that they will.

The following is a brief understanding of insomnia, the types and causes. Included is a highlight of the importance of sleep and much needed ways to improve it.


Insomnia is characterized by the inability to fall asleep or remain asleep. 30-40% of American adults report symptoms of insomnia in any given year. Insomnia can be a disorder on its own, but it is sometimes the symptom of another disease or condition, like stress or chronic pain. The best measure of insomnia is whether or not you feel rested during the day. It is important to understand your insomnia in order to appropriately treat it, as insomnia is not the same for everyone. Here are different facts that you should know before beginning or seeking treatment for insomnia.

Types and Causes

There are different types and causes of insomnia. Insomnia that lasts anywhere between one to several nights is classified as acute insomnia. This can be related to stress, changes in daily routines, type of food or drink consumed, or too much sleep the night before or during the day (naps). Chronic insomnia can occur over a period of months to years. This type of insomnia can be related to chronic disease or certain medicines like stimulants, asthma medications, allergy medications, or birth control pills.

The Purpose of Sleep

During sleep, the body builds bone, muscle, and tissue, as well as protects against illness. The amount of sleep a person needs depends on the individual.  Children often need more sleep than adults. Whatever the appropriate amount of sleep, too little of it can affect you throughout the day. Consequences of little sleep include: difficulty remembering, inability to use the brain to its maximum potential, depression, increased risk of getting sick (lowered immune response), and poor judgment.

Ways to Improve Sleep

There are a number of ways to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep. Consider the following remedies before speaking with your doctor about prescription drugs. (Be advised that prescription therapy is often costly and can have side effects with other drugs. If you do seek a doctor’s advice, ask him/her for a remedy that would best suit you.)

  • Improve your diet: Consume more fruits and vegetables and fewer junk foods or caffeinated drinks (sodas and coffee).
  • Be physically activity: Play sports regularly, walk to work, and/or take the stairs.
  • Create a sleep-inducing environment: Turn off the TV before bed, shut off the lights, make sure you have enough blankets to keep you warm).
  • Designate a “sleep zone”: Use your bed and bedroom only for sleep, not work or studying.
  • Establish a routine: Use an alarm clock to establish a regular bed-time routine and waking schedule that works for you.
  • Set some limits: Limit alcohol, nicotine, and other drug consumption.

The Friedman Sprout is a monthly student run newspaper that aims to serve the student population at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, prospective students, and alumni. Our mission is to report on newsworthy information that affects the Friedman community including nutrition research, food policy, internship and volunteer opportunities, as well as school events. Our editorial slant is that of sustainability in food and nutrition.

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