October 6, 2014

Sleep quality during exam stress: the role of alcohol, caffeine and nicotine

M Zunhammer et al, 2014, Sleep quality during exam stress: the role of alcohol, caffeine and nicotine, PLoS One, published online ahead of print.

Academic exam stress is known to compromise sleep quality and alter drug consumption in university students. Here we evaluated if sleeping problems and changes in legal drug consumption during exam stress are interrelated. We used the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) to survey sleep quality before, during, and after an academic exam period in 150 university students in a longitudinal questionnaire study. Self-reports of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine consumption were obtained. The Perceived Stress Questionnaire (PSQ-20) was used as a measure of stress. Sleep quality and alcohol consumption significantly decreased, while perceived stress and caffeine consumption significantly increased during the exam period. No significant change in nicotine consumption was observed. In particular, students shortened their time in bed and showed symptoms of insomnia. Mixed model analysis indicated that sex, age, health status, as well as the amounts of alcohol and caffeine consumed had no significant influence on global sleep quality. The amount of nicotine consumed and perceived stress were identified as significant predictors of diminished sleep quality. Nicotine consumption had a small-to-very-small effect on sleep quality; perceived stress had a small-to-moderate effect. In conclusion, diminished sleep quality during exam periods was mainly predicted by perceived stress, while legal drug consumption played a minor role. Exam periods may pose an interesting model for the study of stress-induced sleeping problems and their mechanisms.

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