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Schoolwork’s demanding, housing is noisy, and your social life calls, so it might feel like sleep is optional. It’s not! Sufficient sleep is essential for a healthy body, optimal cognitive function, and a stable mood. In other words, it’s a key to academic success.
Sleep Keeps You Sweet
There are many reasons your body loves sleep.
- Energy: If you find yourself falling asleep in class or losing concentration by 3:00 p.m., you’re not getting enough sleep. While a power nap of 20-30 minutes can help you feel refreshed, naps aren’t a replacement for consistent nighttime sleep.
- Cognitive Functioning: You snooze, you learn. Studies manipulating people’s amount of sleep have shown that sleep-deprived students experience reduced learning capacity while those getting an optimal amount perform better academically.
- Healthy Body: Watching your waistline? Watch the insides of your eyelids.
A 2004 study of hunger and sleep discovered that well-rested subjects had higher levels of leptin, the hormone which signals fullness, and lower ghrelin amounts, an appetite stimulator. When subjects were sleep-deprived, these switched.
Result: Participants felt less hungry when well rested.
Bedtime Routines Aren’t Just for Kids
Nearly 70 percent of respondents to the recentStudent Health 101 survey said they have a before-bed routine, and most devote more than 20 minutes to unwinding. That might seem like time you could spend doing something “productive,” but in fact, preparing for sleep will improve its quality, and that will improve your productivity exponentially.
Simply put, bedtime routines work. Students say that having one helps them fall asleep faster, sleep better, and wake up refreshed. “It helps me clear my head and relax,” says Nat C., a sophomore at Metro State University of Denver in Colorado. “I generally wake more rested and less stressed the next day.”
Skimping on Sleep to “Have More Time”
“Sometimes I can’t fall asleep because my mind will keep racing and thinking about everything I need to get done,” says Sophie K., a junior at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. Maximizing your time management can help you offload stress and organizing your time prevents late-night rushes to finish assignments.
Here are some simple tips:
Bid the day farewell with a relaxing routine. Survey respondents suggest:
- Washing up
- Listening to relaxing music
- Dimming the lights
- Reading for pleasure-not a textbook!
Kate B., a junior at Winona State University in Minnesota, notes, “It’s incredible how just five minutes of stretching before bed helps me fall asleep.”
Turn off the tech at least an hour before bedtime. Dr. Roxanne Prichard, a sleep expert at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, says, “Exposure to light, especially bluish light or short wavelength light [in electronics], suppressesmelatonin-the hormone that [tells] your body it’s time to go to bed.”
Margaret K., a junior at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, says, “I try not to use technology (or eat or do homework) in my bed, just to reinforce that when I get in, it’s for sleeping.”
Your sleepy body needs quiet and darkness, but many shared living spaces are the opposite.
- A small fan or recorded nature sounds can neutralize noise.
- Earplugs can work wonders.
- Dark curtains or those with light-blocking layers will douse the light.
- An eye mask can block out distractions.
Communicate With Roommates
Roommates may not share your schedule, so talk about how to work around one another’s needs.
- Ask that they avoid making noise or flipping on lights when you’re trying to snooze.
- Establish quiet hours.
- Set boundaries on social activities and visitors.
- Communicate and compromise. If your negotiations stall, get help from a staff member.
Avoid These Common Sleep-Quality Reducers:
- Say no to nightcaps. You might fall asleep faster after drinking alcohol, but your sleep will be shallower and you’re likely to wake earlier.
- Stick to a consistent sleep schedule. You can use the weekend to recoup an hour or two, but skipping sleep during the week and crashing Saturday and Sunday will disrupt your circadian clock, making it harder to get needed shuteye.
- Many people find that exercising close to bedtime makes it more difficult to fall asleep, so plan your fitness routine for earlier in the day.
- Avoid naps longer than about 20 minutes. Otherwise they may make it harder for you to fall asleep later.
- Only use your bed for sleeping and sex. “Try to avoid using your bed [to study]. Work from a desk, library, or coffee shop whenever possible,” says Dr. Roxanne Prichard, an associate professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Practice Makes for Better Sleep
Charles Corva, a licensed clinical social worker in Stockbridge, Georgia, suggests finding what works for you, and once you find your sleep-inducing groove, repetition is key. Your body will start to recognize your habits as cues to prepare for sleep.
Victoria E., a senior at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts, says, “I usually feel more relaxed and have a better night’s sleep [when] I unwind.”
It might be tempting to disregard bedtime routines as childish, but settling into one can help you rise and shine tomorrow.
Don’t Let Your Lullaby Go Lullabye
College students need eight to nine hours of sleep a night for optimal functioning. Are most getting enough?
Here are some slumber stats:
- According to the American College Health Association’s 2012 National College Health Assessment, on most nights, 75 percent of students didn’t get enough sleep to feel rested upon waking.
- More than 90 percent of students experienced sleepiness during the day, a sure sign of insufficient sleep.
- Sleep difficulties affected 20 percent of students’ academic performance.
- Power down by powering off electronics an hour before bed.
- Read for pleasure, listen to soothing music, or do some stretching to unwind.
- Run a small fan or use a white-noise machine to drown out distractions.
- Discuss your sleep habits with roommates and establish quiet hours.
Get help or find out more
Dartmouth College, Academic Skills Center, Improving Concentration, Memory, and Motivation
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sleep and sleep disorders
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Two–week Sleep Diary U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, Your Guide to Healthy Sleep
The Campus Companion, Ya Snooze, Ya Lose (Creating a College Sleep Schedule That Works)