COLLEGE
05/04/2016 12:10 pm ET Updated May 05, 2017

Sleep Is The Component You're Missing For Improved Mental Health

Since the most mentally stressful time of year - Finals Week - is upon us, I feel it's necessary to emphasize how important it is to take care of yourself and get enough sleep. Be kind to your mind this week as you study and take a rest!

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For as long as I can remember, I was taught that there were only two main components that lead to a healthy mindset: eating right and exercise. Don't get me wrong - those factors are incredibly important and I do my best to practice both. However, many people don't realize they are missing perhaps the most important piece of the mental health puzzle: getting enough sleep.

Shockingly, one out of every four college students suffers from some form of mental illness, including depression. College students also happen to be one of the most sleep-deprived populations. If you ask me, these two statistics are not independent of each other - one directly affects the other. According to Dr. Andrew Fuligini, Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California, "daily feelings of anxiety, depression, and fatigue are the most consistent psychological outcomes of obtaining less sleep at night."

"Even worse, symptoms of mental illness can develop quickly from lack of sleep."

What many people fail to recognize is that depression is not only a symptom of sleep deprivation, but it can also be a cause. Scientists refer to this as a "bidirectional" relationship. Students who are chronically sleep deprived are damaging their mental health without even noticing that their poor sleep habits are leading to their ailing mental state - or aggravating issues that are already present.

Even worse, symptoms of mental illness can develop quickly from lack of sleep. A study conducted in Michigan of 1000 adults ages 21-30 reported that, compared to "normal sleepers," those who claimed to have sleep problems during an interview at the beginning of the study were four times as likely to develop major depression by the time of a second interview just three years later.

But, not all students are oblivious to the fact they don't get enough sleep. Many young people are diagnosed with sleep disorders like insomnia. According to the National Sleep Foundation, people with insomnia are ten times more likely to develop depression compared with those who sleep well.

"The fact of the matter is, if you are sleeping less than seven hours a night, you are sleep deprived."

The fact of the matter is, if you are sleeping less than seven hours a night, you are sleep deprived. Actually, sleep deprivation among college-aged students is so common, no one even realizes it. According to research by Brown University, 73% of college students were found to have sleep problems--while only 11% reported "good" sleep. This overwhelming majority just goes to show that sleep deprivation is severely overlooked and practicing healthy sleep patterns is not treated as a serious priority.

The habits we set in college are habits that may follow us for much of our lives. If you are depriving yourself of sleep now, you could suffer from sleep deprivation for years to come. And the long-term effects of sleep deprivation can cost you your mental health.

This post is part of our series on sleep culture on college campuses. To join the conversation and share your own story, please email our Director of College Outreach Abby Williams directly at abigail.williams@huffingtonpost.com. And you can find out here if the #SleepRevolution College Tour will be visiting your campus, and learn how you can get involved. If your college is not one of the colleges already on our tour and you want it to be, please get in touch with Abby.