College students’ depression, anxiety, and tobacco use results in poor sleep quality

Story Highlights

  • Students with depression and/or anxiety disorders were more likely to report sleep problems.
  • Similarly, students with higher rates of tobacco use were more likely to report sleep problems.
  • Sleep problems of those two groups of students were more likely to affect academic performance than those of other students.

A 2016 study found that college students with depression/anxiety disorders, along with those with tobacco habits, experienced higher numbers of sleep problems than other students.
Researchers found that students with both depression and anxiety disorders reported a higher number of sleep problems on average than those with only one of the disorders, while students with either depression or anxiety disorders reported more sleep issues than those with neither.
The number of sleep issues reported by those with only depression disorders and those with only anxiety disorders were not significantly different.
On the other hand, the higher a student’s frequency of tobacco usage, the more sleep issues they were likely to report, beating out  factors such as other forms of substance use, long working hours, and gender.

On their own, both depression/anxiety disorders and tobacco usage are enough to meaningfully affect the sleep quality of college students, but taken together they have the potential to make matters worse. The researchers suggested that tobacco use brought on by a student’s depression and/or anxiety disorders likely increases the number of sleep problems they experience.

Hannah Allen, a PhD student at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, said that the study did a good job in exploring the connections and relationships between those factors.

Impacts of sleep issues on academic performance
Regardless of whether a student’s sleep disturbances are caused by depression/anxiety disorders or by tobacco usage, one common thread remains: those students generally reported that their sleep problems had a detrimental effect on how well they did in their courses.

Students with depression and/or anxiety disorders were between 2.3 and 3.6 times more likely to report that their sleep problems had negative effects on their academics compared to their colleagues who experienced neither of those disorders.

On the other hand, students who had tobacco usage habits were between 1.4 and 1.8 times more likely to report the same negative effects compared to their colleagues without tobacco habits.



Sam Kim, a junior information science major at the University of Maryland, said that those effects make sense considering how the factors might stay on a student’s mind throughout the day or when they’re trying to sleep.

Of course, this is not the first time that researchers have examined the impact of sleep and sleep problems on the academic performance of students.

Previous studies have shown that students who don’t get enough sleep, experience difficulties falling asleep, or experience excessive tiredness throughout their day tended to have poorer academic performance.

Other studies have similarly suggested how students who slept and woke earlier and had napping habits performed better academically.

The researchers found these results by analyzing responses to selected questions from a survey designed to measure college students’ health habits, behaviors, and perceptions (The American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II, or ACHA-NCHA II).

After eliminating students who were outside the 18-25 age range of college students and those who seemed to have intentionally lied on the survey, the number of student responses analyzed for this study came to about 85,000.

Tobacco use was separated into the three groups of “Daily, Some, and None” by looking at responses to the question asking students the number of days they used tobacco products within the past 30.

When it came to depression and anxiety disorders, the researchers looked beyond simply counting the number of students who received official diagnoses, since individuals with those disorders often remain undiagnosed.

Their final count also included students who weren’t officially diagnosed but answered in specific ways to the majority of a selected sample of statements about past feelings.

To look at and assess the impacts on sleep quality, the researchers looked at questions asking if students felt like they didn’t get enough sleep, if they felt like they weren’t able to sleep, as well as any difficulties that might have resulted from sleep troubles.

This study joins the broader field that looks at the relationships between mental health, substance use, and sleep.

Mental health issues are serious. For more information or assistance, consult these resources or speak to a professional therapist or psychiatrist. If you or someone you know is considering taking their own life, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.