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Help For Sleep-Deprived Students

Duke University is eliminating 8 a.m. classes and trying to come up with other ways help its sleep-deprived students, who too often are struggling to survive on a mix of caffeine, adrenaline and ambition.

The school is also considering new orientation programs this fall that would help freshmen understand the importance of sleep.

"Generally, the people I know, we don't see sleep as that important compared to what school and the curriculum have to offer," said Marcel Yang, a Duke freshman from Chapel Hill.

Lack of sleep among college students is an old problem, but one that appears to be getting worse, according to some national surveys.

College students sleep an average of six to seven hours a night, down from seven to seven and a half in the 1980s. Last month, the University of Michigan held a national conference on sleep, stress, depression and college students. Sleep deprivation can hurt academic performance and increase stress levels.

James Clack, Duke's director of counseling and psychological services, said the latest research shows that college-age people should be getting nine hours of sleep a night.

"They begin to get into a pattern of sleeping four to five hours," he said. "They really think it doesn't bother them, but that really isn't the case."

Duke wants students to consider adequate sleep a part of overall wellness. One idea is to do individual health assessments for each student and set goals for good nutrition, exercise and plenty of shuteye.

"They're coming in to see us, and they're ragged," said Ryan Lombardi, assistant dean of students. "We get e-mails and calls in the middle of the night at ungodly hours."

Those schedules have even affected Duke's class times. Students have shunned 8 a.m. classes to the point that many departments stopped offering them. When campus planners looked over the schedule, they realized that, over the years, most classes had been squeezed into the hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

"That suits many students just fine," said Judith Ruderman, vice provost. "But we couldn't exist like that."

Duke was running out of classroom space, and students were beginning to complain about the availability of courses. So administrators worked out a new schedule for the fall, spreading classes more evenly throughout the day and week.

The result: no more 8 a.m. classes, but plenty starting at 8:30 a.m. That will still be a shock to some students who have never had classes before 9.

"We're going to have a lot of grumbling next fall when the reality sets in," Ruderman said. "But you know what? They're resourceful and they'll manage."

Ruderman's advice to her sleepwalking students? Take an afternoon nap.

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