When I was in college, I had a class twice a week in which the professor would turn out the lights and use a projector for an hour and a half. So, twice a week, guess who slept for an hour and a half from 2 to 3:30 PM? This guy! I sat in the back row and eventually even started bringing a little pillow to class – not even joking. The point is, I didn’t get enough sleep as a college student, and I paid for it. If you are reading this as a current or incoming student, you probably aren’t getting enough sleep either.
The recommended amount of sleep is 7 to 8 hours a night, which may seem laughable when you’re juggling classes, studying, sports, extracurriculars, dating, socializing, and late nights with friends. But, by incorporating just a few simple methods, I think you can increase your quality and amount of sleep while still having a fun and meaningful college experience. In this blog, I’ll share six tips that really improved my sleep when I was in college, and I think they can do the same for you!
Spoiler alert – tips don’t include sleeping in class.
1. Don’t chill on your bed. Reserve it for sleep.
This may seem like a weird one, but it is a game-changer. Your mind is quite adaptive, and if you spend time doing homework or chatting with your friends while comfortably sitting or lounging on your bed, your mind disassociates the bed mattress with sleep. Consistently using the bed as casual furniture for daily use instead of nighttime sleep has even been linked to Chronic Insomnia.
When I heard this statistic as a college student, I thought it was dumb until I tried it. When I only reserved my bed for sleep, I felt like a switch had just been flipped in my head, signaling my body that it’s time to sleep. For college dorm rooms with limited space, beds often turn into seating for you and your friends during the day. But, this may be hurting your sleep! Try incorporating some actual seating furniture in your dorm room during the day, so that when your head hits the pillow for the first time at night, you’ll be lights out in no time.
2. Create a schedule but allow flexibility. Don’t make college a boot camp.
For any area or discipline in your life to succeed, whether it’s exercise, work, or even relationships – it must be sustainable. Your sleep is no exception. That said, it’s probably not realistic for you and your roommate to be lights out and in bed by 9 PM throughout the week. So, shoot for a reasonable time to go to bed each night, but set up a routine and schedule that allows a little flexibility. If you set hard deadlines to abide by every night, you’ll hate yourself, and your friends may hate you. Give yourself a little grace, use common sense, and be realistic with your expectations. Go ahead and go out with your friends on some nights, but don’t be afraid to pass if you know you need some sleep or have a long day the following day. Consistency is key!
“Your personal goals should enrich your life, not take away from it.”
3. Don’t lose your rhythm.
Not talking about dancing rhythm here..for some of you, that was lost a long time ago. We’re talking about the Circadian Rhythm, your body’s internal clock. This clock runs in the background of your brain throughout the day and night, sending sleepy and alert signals, which ultimately determines your sleep/wake cycle. It’s why you tend to feel sluggish or wide awake during certain times of day (diet is also an important factor); your Circadian Rhythm probably has something to do with it.
According to the Sleep Foundation, factors like lightness and darkness impact this process. That’s why your Circadian Rhythm works best when you have regular sleep habits, which include going to bed at night and being active during the day. When you’re up late at night or have an all-nighter, it disrupts your Circadian Rhythm. That said, try to avoid all-nighters at all costs. But, this is college, and sometimes, it’s inevitable. So if it does happen, try to stay awake the following day until it’s a reasonable time to go to bed. Avoiding naps and reserving sleep for the night will help you maintain a healthy internal clock.
4. Avoid caffeine/coffee in the evenings.
For whatever reason, coffee/caffeine is one of those subjects that people love doing studies on. Too many times have I heard sentences starting off with – “You know, they say….” and then the individual proceeded to tell me about some new “groundbreaking” study about coffee. We don’t need to dig up a bunch of studies for this point, as it’s pretty obvious. Caffeine wakes you up, and its effects can last for up to six hours. So, don’t consume caffeine within six hours of going to bed, and your body will thank you!
5. Exercise regularly
Researchers don’t completely understand how exercise helps improve sleep, but we know it does! According to John Hopkins Medicine, moderate aerobic exercise improves deep sleep. Exercise can also help stabilize your mood and provide an outlet for you to decompress. Both of these steps are part of your body’s natural process to help transition to sleep.
Now, is it better to work out in the morning or the evening? Timing is where it gets tricky. Many people sleep better after an evening workout while others have trouble falling asleep after hitting the gym at night. So, get ready for the most annoying answer ever – IT DEPENDS. Try both and see how you feel. However, if you do work out in the evenings, do not take a pre-workout, or don’t take one with stimulants. There are several pre-workouts on the market that don’t have stimulants that are more suitable for evening workouts. Click here to check out a blog about the top 10 best stimulant-free workout supplements.
6. Clean up your diet
Have you heard the phrase “you are what you eat?” There is actually some truth to this. Although, a more accurate translation may be, “you feel what you eat.” If you eat greasy fast food all day, you’ll feel terrible, and it also takes a toll on your sleep. According to Sleep.org, a diet low in fiber and high in saturated fats can impact your deep sleep. These foods can also wreak havoc for those suffering from gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). Eating too much sugar can also result in you waking up more times in the middle of the night. Especially try to avoid eating these foods as you approach bedtime as you’ll be more likely to lose sleep and gain fat (a lose-lose situation).
About the Author
Andrew received a bachelor’s degree in Journalism (2015) and a master’s degree in Strategic Communication (2022). Seeing the world by way of story, he was drawn to writing and music at a young age. He is also a major foodie which may explain why his shirts “keep getting smaller.” Andrew serves as the managing editor for PrepU.