A+ Sleep Strategies to Survive & Thrive in College
Class is in session when it comes to finding ways to help students score top grades for getting their best sleep
It’s back to school for millions of college students across the nation. While they might be excited to study history, geology, math and physics, they need some schooling on the art and science of a good night’s sleep.
Going away to college (especially for first years) comes with a lot of baggage, beginning with sharing a dorm room sans parental controls. Then there’s the upheaval in routines and temptations to stay up late socializing or studying. Sleep deprivation is a chronic problem among college students, whether they’re studious or party-goers.
In a comprehensive University of Michigan study, 50% of college students across the country reported daytime sleepiness, irregular sleep schedules and sleep deprivation. More than 70% suffered from insufficient sleep. The general consensus is that young adults should have at least 8 hours of sleep each night but in an architectural school in the Midwest, just 4% of students slept that much on a regular basis.
The consequence of sleep deprivation in our schools is significant
A study from June 2017 looked at 61 Harvard students and their sleep habits. Those who had inconsistent bedtimes and wake times tended to have lower grades. Constant irregularity leads to a disruption in the levels of melatonin, an important regulating hormone of the body’s circadian clock. It’s like being in a constant state of jet lag, which (long term) can lead to risk of more health issues from diabetes to weight gain.
To compensate for poor sleep habits, many students abuse (at an alarming rate) ADHD medication to stay awake into the wee hours. As well, college-age drivers have a higher rate of late-night crashes caused by fatigue, drowsiness, and, in many cases, also alcohol.
“As a student, you’re never taught strategies to take care of your sleep, but the reality is that it’s one of the first things you should learn,” according to Matt Berg, cofounder of Somni, a digital platform that delivers interactive content and tools designed to help everyone improve their cognitive, emotional and physical health through better sleep. “For me, it was the ultimate a-ha moment. Your brain is your most important asset. It’s your memories, relationships, emotions, decisions and ultimately your source of income. It’s also the only organ that you can’t replace, so it’s critical that you learn how to take care of it, no matter your stage in life. Sleep is incredibly important to a good life.”
9 ways to sleep well during your college years
Set a bedtime and wake time and stick to it. Avoiding nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, and stimulants is also key to developing a normal sleep schedule with high quality of sleep as a student. It is, however, difficult given the omnipresence of the above substances in a university environment.
Cut your stress. Anxiety and stress can wreck your rest. Exercise, meditation, reading, watching Netflix and hanging with a loved one are good ways to ease stress and help you feel more relaxed – a good foundation to aid falling asleep faster. Still have stress issues? Seek out resources on campus or see a healthcare professional.
Keep the peace. “Sleep probably isn’t the first thing that college students are thinking about, but it is important for a student’s health and even their success in class. If they are sleeping in a dorm, it is probably going to be loud,” says Bill Fish, certified sleep science coach, Tuck.com. He strongly suggests in investing in a white noise machine to help you not only get to sleep but stay asleep. When your housemates across the hall decide to play video games into the wee hours of the morning, a white noise machine can help muffle and block some of the noise.
Go dark. “Most college students go to bed late and wake up late,” Fish notes. “That 8:30 am class feels like 5:00 am if you don’t go to bed until 2 am. Thus, most of the time you are waking up after the sun rises. If this is the case, use black out shades on your windows.” It’s also important to shut down laptops, phones and other electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime to ensure your brain can easily transition to a healthy sleep phase.
Try a weighted blanket. Weighted blankets have become increasingly popular in recent years. The weight works on deep pressure therapy to help calm and soothe anxiety. For students who are away from home for the first time, homesickness and anxiety may be issues. Studies suggest that weighted blankets can help calm and encourage deeper sleep.
Make sleep a priority. “Although it can be hard to make sleep an important part of the college routine, if you don’t give yourself enough time for sleep, you will find it more difficult to study since sleep deprivation has been shown to have a negative impact on concentration and memory,” says Martin Reed, founder of Insomnia Coach. “Similarly, if you struggle with sleep for a long period of time you will be less motivated to socialize, which is a key part of the college experience,” he adds.
Choose a good quality mattress. Not only is your mattress important but a quality mattress protector can be helpful if your sleep is disturbed due to allergic reactions to dust, mildew, or mold. While the temptation might be to go for an inexpensive mattress – or sleep system – think of it as an investment for the next stage of your life, like a first apartment post-graduation. A well-made mattress can last an average of 7 to 10 years.
Go easy on the booze. It’s worth bearing in mind that although alcohol can help you fall asleep, it disrupts sleep quality, making it more likely that you will wake during the night and struggle to fall back to sleep.
Stay mindful. “Make sure that you know your sleep habits and you give yourself time to adjust to your new environment,” says Gina Marie Guarino, a licensed mental health counselor, “and you stay mindful of how your activities are affecting you. Studying too hard or too late in the night will prevent you from being able to wind down your mind enough to get a restful sleep. Go to bed at a reasonable time and allow yourself to unwind before going to bed will be helpful, if you’re struggling to sleep in college.