College students drink too much and sleep too little. Parents know it; former students admit it. Persuading current undergraduates is more difficult, but the attempt must be made.
Research shows that students who stay up all night to cram do less well on exams than their better-rested peers. Studies conclude that college athletes perform better when they get more sleep. And sleep deprivation increases stress on even young, healthy hearts.
A recent national survey conducted by Harvard University's school of public health found that 44 percent of college students binge-drink. Other studies blame alcohol abuse for 1,800 deaths, nearly 100,000 rapes, more than a half a million injuries, and a similar number of assaults on college students every year.
The problem is not new. Centuries-old European texts include stories about medieval university students who drank, gambled, and fought when they should have been studying. The records include letters in which fathers urge their sons to stop carousing and return to class.
These days, the task is made harder by the belief among many students that alcohol and lack of sleep are integral to college life. According to the Los Angeles Times, a recent study suggests that college student who binge-drink -- four drinks at a time for women, five drinks for men -- say they are happier than their classmates who don't drink to excess.
Still, with students back on campus, parents and colleges have to get the facts out: College-age students need an average of nine hours of sleep a night. Students who get enough sleep are less likely to be anxious, stressed, or depressed. They also are less likely to get sick.
Regular sleep patterns provide the greatest health benefits. Naps, especially short ones, can be regenerative. And the payoff, according to some studies, can be a full letter grade on the transcript.
Some colleges give students earplugs and sleep masks, and mandate quiet hours in dormitories. But students bear the ultimate responsibility for taking care of themselves.
Parents will scoff, but research suggests they can influence the drinking habits of their college-age children. Michael Cleveland, a researcher at Pennsylvania State University's Prevention Research Center, says students are less likely to drink if parents talk to them about alcohol before they go to college -- and keep talking once they're on campus.
Get enough sleep. Don't get drunk. Such simple advice could spell the difference between success and failure in college, and afterward.