Last year, Karen Werden moved from her home in Aurora, Ont., to a residence at the University of Waterloo. She chose to stay in a shared dorm room to be close to classes and force herself to get to know people.

Werden, 19, says she needs eight hours’ sleep, and if she doesn't get it, she zones out during the day, unable to focus on what’s happening in class.

Three weeks into first year, her roommate dropped out, so Werden had the space to herself. But in second term, she acquired a new dorm mate who slept much of the day and stayed out late.
Werden often found herself still wide awake until 2 or 3 a.m.

With little sleep and lots of stress, students are vulnerable to irritability and depression, says Colin Shapiro, director of the Youthdale Child and Adolescent Sleep Centre in Toronto.

Existing conditions such as diabetes, chronic fatigue and asthma can also worsen with sleep deprivation.

He says a lot of memory consolidation occurs during sleep, and having too little can impair cognitive performance at the very time students are being stretched academically.

“Most people have the odd notion that just because they’re a human being, they are born to be capable of sleeping well,” says Shapiro, but that’s not always the case.