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Stress and Burnout Among Graduate Students: Moderation by Sleep Duration and Quality

Abstract

Background

There are high levels of stress among graduate students, and stress is associated with multiple negative outcomes among student populations, including academic burnout. Sleep could play an important role in explaining the association between stress and burnout, but these relationships have not been explored among the graduate student population. The current study assessed whether or not sleep duration and quality moderated the relationship between stress and burnout (i.e., exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy) among graduate students.

Methods

A sample of 2683 master’s, doctoral, and professional graduate students from two large, public universities completed an online survey. Linear regression models with interaction terms were developed to evaluate the relationships between stress and burnout while examining moderation by sleep duration and quality.

Results

Participants slept an average of 6.4 h per night, with 62% indicating good sleep quality. Stress had significant, positive relationships with exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. The relationship between stress and exhaustion lessened as sleep duration increased, and the relationship between stress and exhaustion was weaker among students with good sleep quality when compared with those with poor sleep quality. Neither sleep duration nor sleep quality moderated the relationships between stress and cynicism or stress and inefficacy.

Conclusions

Improving sleep habits has the potential to lessen the negative association between stress and graduate student functioning. Future research utilizing longitudinal designs is needed to understand the temporality of these associations and the influence of possible co-factors like individual propensity for mental health problems and social support.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Brittany Bugbee for her assistance in developing the data collection instrument.

Funding

This project was supported by the Prevention and Methodology Training Program (T32 DA017629; PI: L.M. Collins), with funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Additional support was provided by NIDA under Grants R01 DA014845 and U01 DA040219.

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Correspondence to Hannah K. Allen.

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Allen, H.K., Barrall, A.L., Vincent, K.B. et al. Stress and Burnout Among Graduate Students: Moderation by Sleep Duration and Quality. Int.J. Behav. Med. 28, 21–28 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12529-020-09867-8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12529-020-09867-8

Keywords

  • Graduate students
  • Stress
  • Burnout
  • Sleep