UC Davis wants its students to sleep at school.
University staff have hung hammocks, handed out eye masks and even started a power nap class to disrupt a student culture that prioritizes study over sleep.
“For some reason, there is a culture on campus that, in order to be academically successful, our wellness needs to go out the door,” said Brian Luu, who teaches the Power Nap class.
Lack of sleep is one of the top three negative impacts on academic performance for college students nationally, said Emilia Aguirre, a mental health specialist at the university.
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Data collected by campuses as part of the National College Health Assessment for 2017 showed that about 1 in 5 U.S. college students struggled with sleep difficulties that impacted the way they performed. At UC Davis, it was 1 in 4, according to the report.
Almost all – 94 percent – of students surveyed at UC Davis that year said they had at least some trouble with sleepiness during the day. That number was 90 percent nationwide.
In 2016, the fitness tracking company Jawbone named UC Davis among the universities where students get the least sleep. Davis students who tracked their sleep with Up by Jawbone averaged 6.75 hours of sleep each night, according to the company.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep for young adults between the ages 18 and 25.
“Every day, speaking to students, you hear quite often that they don’t get enough sleep and that they are sleepy during their classes,” Aguirre said. “What I’m hoping is that we can make sleep health a top priority on our campus.”
The free Power Nap Class, which started at the beginning of the fall quarter, is the most recent effort to improve sleep among students. There are no exams, just five minutes of soothing words from Luu to help relax students, followed by 20 minutes of nap time.
Last week, eight UC Davis students and two staff members pulled on blue eye masks and laid down on yoga mats on the dance studio floor to take the class.
Luu switched on soft music and began talking the students through relaxation techniques. “Your only job is to simply rest and exist,” he said softly, as students rolled onto their backs, curled up with blankets and kicked off their shoes.
“It’s really important to relax,” said Maddison Hill, a senior, after the class. “I know, as a student, I get super-duper stressed and I avoid dealing with it, so I get super-duper sick.”
She said students sleep on desks and other places on campus, particularly in the weeks before exams. Hill, who takes 16 units of coursework and works two part-time jobs, said she generally prefers to go to her nearby home for a nap during the day.
Georgia Nze, who works at the school’s Activities and Recreation Center, said she had never power napped before the class, but planned to start. “I feel like it’s important to take a minute away from job, school, whatever it is, and just kind of focus on yourself,” she said. “Recenter and refocus. I think that mental break is necessary for some people.”
University officials decided to start the class to encourage naps of 20 to 30 minutes, which research shows increases alertness and activity, Luu said.
“It can help students be a lot more effective in their studies and, hopefully, even get them in the mindset that sleep is important for them,” Luu said.
The class, offered three days a week at the school’s recreation center, is slowly gaining popularity, Aguirre said.
Across campus, Valerie Ramos was laying in one of the eight blue hammocks that ring the quad. She said this was the first time in a year that one of the popular hammocks was available when she walked by.
“I’m very appreciative that I can sit here today and ... relax,” she said, explaining that she doesn’t like to nap in public.
The sophomore has an internship with Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento, and said she only slept three hours the night before.
“It’s because of a lot of anxiety that I have,” she said. “I had to study for an organic chemistry class this morning, so I was up late last night. I definitely put my grades before my own well-being.”
The “Health Happens Here” hammocks, sponsored by a California Endowment grant, comprise one of 24 popular nap sites listed on the UC Davis Nap Map. The nap map includes comfortable spots with low noise and dim lighting in lounges, laboratories, courtyards and the library, Aguirre said. The hammocks are the most popular stop on the map, she said.
The university recently held a forum for medical professionals on the sleep problems of students. The topics included the connection between sleep, mental health, retention and academic success.
Luu expects it will take some time to change the culture of sleep deprivation on campus, but advises students to put themselves first. “If that doesn’t happen, then you are not going to be successful in the classroom,” he said.