Does reading week help or hurt students?

If you ask five Ryerson students how they spent their reading week, you’ll likely get the same five answers: sleeping. If you ask those same five Ryersonians how they’re feeling today, you’ll likely get a different answer: tired.

At Ryerson, we get double the number of study breaks as most Canadian schools. So why aren’t we all feeling relaxed and refreshed right now?

In 2008, Statistics Canada published a study on the sleep patterns of Canadians. Participants were tasked with recording the times they went to bed and woke up each day. They were also asked questions about their lifestyle, habits, and activities.

The researchers found that certain groups of people got less sleep than everyone else.

For the most part, the data confirmed the obvious: married couples with children had more sleepless nights, on average, than those without children. Single people slept a little bit longer than their married peers. People in the workforce didn’t get as much sleep as the unemployed.

But a couple of statistics in particular ought to strike a chord with post-secondary students: two of the factors that corresponded the strongest with a lack of sleep were high stress levels and long commutes.

People who reported feeling stressed slept an average of 35 minutes less each night than the rest of the population.

The effects of stress were so detrimental that the affected got less sleep than their stress-free peers even if they worked shorter hours.

Merely the perception of being stressed for time caused responders to lose out on critical sleeping time. And nearly half of all participants in the study said they cut back on sleep when they needed more time to work.

The study also found a connection between hours of sleep and the length of a responder’s daily commute. Those who took an hour or more to get to work or school slept an average of 22 minutes less than people with short commutes.

The findings lined up with data from a U.S. study which revealed that time spent commuting cut into sleep more than work or leisure time.

These numbers offer some insight into why study breaks do little to help students stay ahead of the game.

We may or may not use our time off productively, but as soon as we return to a normal schedule we’re hit with the same pressures that left us feeling overworked and sleep-deprived in the first place.

It’s especially a problem for students at a commuter school like Ryerson, many of whom spend upwards of two hours driving or taking the train to and from campus every day.

We’re not saying reading week has to go — but it’s not the cure-all to student sleep woes.

Instead, schools need to address the root problems. Spread out midterms and exams to help students manage stress. (Don’t put them all in the same week — the one after reading week.) Give commuting students and staff incentives like free Metropasses and classes that start later in the day.

If we don’t do something, we might as well just rename reading week to regret week. Because that’s all everyone will be feeling the following Monday, when they still can’t muster the strength to get out of bed.

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