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Opinion: U of T must support international students suffering from sleep deprivation

On the need for fair academic treatment of those learning in other time zones
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REBECA MOYA/THE VARSITY
REBECA MOYA/THE VARSITY

There are various challenges that come with being an international student at U of T, whether that be the culture shock or adjusting to residential life. However, in the new world of online learning, international students are now also operating under the difficulties of time differences.

While there has been substantial research examining the negative effects of online learning, there is not nearly enough about the effects of sleep deprivation that international students are facing due to the nature of learning remotely from a different country. For myself, I attempt to keep up with my studies with a 13-hour time difference. It has drained my motivation, thrown my circadian rhythm into disarray, and made it difficult for me to have a healthy work-life balance. 

The effects of sleep deprivation are well known. However, it’s in instances such as this that I believe my health is neither being considered or respected when it comes to the structure of online classes. As I am taking my classes at night and find it hard to sleep during the day, my health has been suffering. I have been skipping my classes to rest and finding it very hard to do well because of the lack of sleep.

A 2017 study published on Dovepress found that sleep disruption in the short term culminates in higher stress, depression, anxiety, and more. Disruption also results in changes in circadian rhythms, making it harder to sleep, and pro-inflammatory responses. Ultimately, it culminates in reduced quality of life, emotional stress or mood disorders, and cognitive, memory, and performance deficits. 

I have a pre-existing injury that is being exacerbated by these effects. In this way, online class is affecting not only my motivation, but also my health. Additionally, many studies have found direct correlations between decreased academic performance and lack of sleep. This can be reflected in the academic effects of sleep deprivation from effects on cognitive function.

Nature published an article in 2019 finding that sleep quality, consistency, and duration is directly correlated with better academic performance in postsecondary students. Considering the lack of sleep an international student like myself is getting, I would not be surprised to find that many other international students are similarly suffering academically. 

Considering Canada’s current struggles with the pandemic, travelling to study isn’t an option we can risk. I do not believe that this environment is conducive for international students dealing with large time differences, such as myself, and the time difference is already having students risk their health just to attend class online. 

The university is in need of a nuanced revamp on how it is currently handling international education. There needs to be a stronger consideration of the effects of sleep deprivation and how the current course structure is contributing to it, and concessions must be made for the health and safety of the students to ensure fair treatment in light of their struggles.

Meghna Chaudhury is a first-year life sciences student at St. Michael’s College.