The college student. They sit in class, eat top ramen and manage to go through four years of consistent sleep deprivation, walking around campus like zombies. At least, that is what some people believe.
But college students might get more sleep and be more active than perception would indicate—at least students at The College of Idaho.
This spring semester, C of I senior Sydney Woods partnered with health and human performance professor Dr. Matt Laye to conduct research on the activity levels of students on campus. For six weeks, 20 students were outfitted with Fitbits which measured heart rate, steps taken per day and sleep. And a few things stuck out from the results.
“There is a statistical difference in the number of steps that students take during weekdays and the weekend,” Laye said. “Students sleep about the same during the week and during the weekends, surprisingly.”
On average, the students took 8,800 steps per day during the week (recommended is 10,000 per day) and 7,600 steps on the weekends, and they average just over 7 hours of sleep per night. But, again, those are averages.
“Some people were sleeping for twelve hours per day, and other people for only two,” Woods said.
In addition to looking at the difference between weekdays and weekends, Woods wanted to see how activity levels would change throughout the semester, hypothesizing students would be less active at the end of the year as they got bogged down in studies. But, because the weather gets warmer at the end of the school year, that hypothesis may have been wrong as people were outside more, she said.
The other goal of the study was to compare objective measurements using the Fitbit versus using subjective measurements, such as a questionnaire. They indeed found a weak correlation between the two in that most people underestimated their activity levels.
It didn’t matter if the questionnaire was given at the beginning or at the end of the trial period; there were wide discrepancies between perceived and actual activity levels.
“That brings up multiple issues, the first being don’t use those questionnaires in research because they’re not very accurate,” Laye said. “And the second is perhaps a Fitbit doesn’t increase awareness of your physical activity levels as much as we think it does.”
For Woods, who plays on the C of I soccer team, an interest in health science was sparked from a young age and an unlikely circumstance—breaking her collarbone while playing soccer.
“I went to the orthopedist and thought it was the coolest thing ever,” Woods said about seeing her bones in an x-ray. “That was the first time I thought, ‘this job would be cool.’”
And as she prepares to graduate, the research was a great hands-on experience as she pursues her goal of going on to med school.
“I’ve learned a lot,” Woods said. “Especially since I was working with people and learning how to work with them. In terms of med school, I could relate it to working with a patient.”
With all of the data collected, there is plenty of room for additional analysis, Laye said. Students next year can use Woods’ initial research to compare activity levels during spring break versus the rest of the semester, or separate activity levels by class year, on individual days, or look at how much vigorous activity students are doing. Various avenues exist to unravel the mysteries of college student life.
The College of Idaho has a 125-year-old legacy of excellence. The C of I is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, four NFL players and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.