A college student’s guide to a better night’s sleep

by Abby Musser – Horizon Editor-in-Chief

Sleeping Library Studiers 2
Shuhei Watsuka takes a quick nap in the library. Photograph by Olivia Copsey

How much sleep did you get last night? If your answer is not enough, you’re not alone. Most people recommend getting eight hours of sleep but college students on average are only getting 5.7 hours of sleep.

This lack of sleep has many negative consequences for students’ physical and mental health.

Julie Lehman, campus counselor, says sleep deprivation is linked to things like “more difficulty in learning and remembering things, decreased ability to manage stress, and an increase in weight gain.”

Sleep deprivation can hurt academic success too. Deb Roth, Dean of Student Success, is familiar with the tactics of sleepy students.

“Students who are sleep deprived tend to sit in the back of the room so they can “hide” if they happen to fall asleep,” said Roth. “These same students likely don’t take notes or engage in class discussion because all they can think about is going back to sleep when they get back to their room.”

As bad as all this sounds, there are a few simple changes you can make to greatly improve sleep quality.

Get some exercise

A 2013 survey found that people who fit in physical activity during the day resulted in better quality of sleep. Even just a few minutes of activity can make a huge impact. Just make sure to do it at least an hour before bed.

Establish a routine

Lehman suggests students create a nighttime routine to do before going to bed, as “it primes the brain for sleeping.” Students can also do well by establishing a self-imposed curfew. By going to bed and waking up at the same time everyday, students can avoid social jet lag.

Limit screen time

It is very tempting to play with your phone while you wait to fall asleep, but it is not doing you any favors. The light from your electronics activates your brain making it more difficult to fall asleep.

“To try to make your brain go from activated and awake to calm and sleeping is like landing a plane and expecting it to stop as soon as your wheels touch down,” said Lehman. “Our brains need the slow braking period to get into a restful state.”

Lehman recommends that students turn off their electronics at least 30 minutes before they plan to sleep.

Avoid your room (at least while studying)

There are many places on campus where students can go to study outside of their rooms. By staying away from the dorm during the day, students are less tempted to take a nap that could disrupt their sleep schedule.

“Staying awake ALL day for one day sometimes is enough to help you go to sleep at a normal hour and be able to get up in the morning and feel rested,” said Roth.

Clear your brain

If you find your mind is racing with thoughts while in bed, it may help to write them down. Take a little time to think through your day, make a list of things you need to get done tomorrow. Peace of mind goes a long way to helping you sleep.

Take deep breaths

Deep breathing had been found to stimulate the body’s parasympathetic reaction, which is the scientific way of saying to calm down. So if you’re laying in bed not able to fall asleep it might help to take a few deep breaths.

Limit caffeine intake

This may seem obvious but it doesn’t make it any less true. Many of us rely on caffeine to stay awake throughout the day. However, avoid consuming caffeine later than early afternoon. This study found that caffeine consumed six hours before bed can disrupt your sleep.

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