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Students, sleep and disposable sheets

From research showing that student sleep cycles preclude early morning seminar participation, to the advent of disposable sheets for students unable to wash bedding, Paul Greatrix outlines the centrality of sleep to student life.
This article is more than 4 years old

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

I was really interested to read of some research into the impact of sleep patterns on students’ academic studies.

It relates to a phenomenon called “social jet lag”:

Schirmer and Smarr analyzed two years of Northeastern student data and determined that a majority of students experience a misalignment between their natural internal rhythms and their school environment, known as social jet lag (SJL). In an academic setting, that could be a student whose internal timing is that of a night owl, but who has to wake up early twice a week for an 8 a.m. class. The study—the largest survey of real-world student SJL ever published—concluded that more SJL correlated to poorer academic performance (which, unfortunately, appears relevant for most students).

The recommendations here are that universities should consider students’ sleeping and waking cycles when timetabling classes and that students should look at their own patterns of activity when choosing classes too:

“Students need to be cognizant of how they partition their time,” Schirmer said. “It’s really important for students to think about the timing of their activities to try to optimize their educational efforts. If your only time to study is midnight to 2 a.m., there might be some academic costs.”
Said Smarr: “Staying up late in college doesn’t make you a party animal or lazy student. Circadian clocks get later in puberty, and so people in their teens and early 20s tend to be more owlish. What we see here is that in a large, diverse population, when class times don’t accommodate that lateness, the quality of the education suffers, and this impacts the majority of students at the university.”

So, given that most students are more ‘owlish’, the suggestion is that classes should, on the whole, start and conclude later in the day. This, it is argued, would generally lead to improve the overall quality of education as fewer students would suffer from social jet lag. This might be more than a little challenging for institutions although I’m not sure there are too many UK HEIs which start teaching at 8am.

One other way to help enhance the sleep cycle for students is this range of disposable bedsheets. These “laundry-free linens” are biodegradable and compostable and are meant to be thrown away after just a few weeks

Kirsten Lambert and Joan Ripple got the idea for throwaway bedding when they sent their children off to college and learned they rarely took the time to wash their sheets.
Beds are like super-sized petri dishes for fungi, bacteria, pollen, soil, dust, and all sorts of detritus from the human body, according to Philip Tierno, a microbiologist and pathologist at the New York University School of Medicine.

While Tierno recommends washing your sheets about once a week, that’s more than a tad unlikely for today’s busy students so simply throwing them out looks like an interesting option. Beantown Bedding’s linens are made out of Tencel, a fibre made from organic compounds found in eucalyptus, which is soft, breathable, and less prone to wrinkles than cotton apparently.

The sheets supposedly decompose in as little as two weeks, but not all college students have easy access to compost bins. Needless to say, constantly throwing away bedsheets isn’t the most environmentally friendly option.

It’s not just the compost bin access that is the concern here though, these disposable sheets aren’t cheap and a twin-XL set costs $19.99 which is going to mean an expensive year for diligent sheet disposers although if you subscribe it can work out cheaper. UK prices via Amazon do seem a bit pricier than the US but it is hard to see this really taking off in HE, especially in these more environmentally aware times.

Students therefore do have some big choices when it comes to their sleep, be it avoiding social jet lag or trips to the laundrette.

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