Sleep Tips for College Students

by | Dec 10, 2021 | Lifestyle

A bed made with white linens and a navy blue throw blanket, including colorful pillows. The wall has two framed photos and there is an end table on either side of the bed.

Sleep directly impacts our wellbeing, so it’s important to learn how to have quality sleep. Many students struggle to get enough sleep amid schoolwork, a demanding social life, financial burdens and other stressors. During long winter nights, we want to focus on getting a satisfying sleep the right way!

 

Why we need sleep

A photo of a woman sleeping, mostly covered by a white comforter and pillow. In her right hand on top of the covers she is holding a pair of black thick-rimmed glasses.

Photo by Isabella and Zsa Fischer on Unsplash

As humans, we have two basic kinds of sleep: REM and non-REM sleep. We cycle through the stages of both several times in a typical night. Although it’s a continuous cycle, we enter deeper REM periods near morning, which means we have an easier time waking up. Each phase of sleep is linked to specific neural activity and brain waves, and in the right combination, we wake up feeling rested. If the cycles are interrupted or we’re not getting enough quality sleep, we wake up groggy, reach for caffeine, stay up too late, and repeat the detrimental cycle. 

Ensuring enough time in each type of sleep is incredibly important for many reasons, including memory consolidation. This is the process in which we turn recently-learned information into long-term memories — definitely important for our studies! As we age, we spend less time in REM sleep, making many feel more unrested when morning comes, which can also affect memory capabilities and functionality. 

Studies show that less than eight hours of sleep per night on a regular basis increases the risk of developing various medical conditions. The health risks of not getting enough sleep are significant, so there really is no excuse to not make good sleep hygiene a practice in 2022.

 

Dangers of under-sleeping

Recent research shows a direct connection between sleep deprivation and decreased capability to resist infections. This means that if you aren’t sleeping enough, you are less able to fight off invading organisms in your body and you’re more likely to get sick. Individuals who slept less than seven hours a night were three times more likely to develop cold symptoms than those who slept eight or more hours. Make sure you get enough sleep, as additional protection during flu and cold season!

It’s hard to focus, study or complete assignments, let alone do anything else, when you don’t feel good. People who sleep fewer than five hours a night have a greater chance of having or developing type 2 diabetes. However, if one improves their sleep, it can improve blood sugar control and reduce the effects of type 2 diabetes. Poor sleep is also linked to weight gain for individuals who sleep around 6 hours a night. Even a slight increase or decrease in sleep has an impact. For example, reducing sleep to 6 or 7 hours per night is linked to a greater risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.

 

Twelve tips for better sleep

Quality sleep, along with healthy eating and exercise, leads to overall healthier bodies and minds at every age. And practicing good sleep hygiene is key, so we have twelve tips for you to get a better night’s sleep. Try a few out and see what works for you!

Tip #1: Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Having a consistent sleep schedule makes it easier for your body to fall asleep and wake up when you need to. Sometimes a forgotten assignment creeps up on you and you have to stay up late to finish a project. That’s okay, but for the most part, try to sleep on a schedule that allows you the same amount of sleep each night – so if you stay up two hours later, try to sleep in two hours later in the morning.

Tip #2: Exercise regularly. Aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes 4 days a week can help your body listen to its natural fatigue signals and make sure that you’re expending any jittery energy.

A close up image of espresso dripping into a teal coffee cup.

Photo by Joshua Glass on Unsplash

Tip #3: Limit caffeine. No caffeine later than 3pm! Caffeine lingers in your body many hours after consumption affecting your ability to sleep. When possible seek other non-caffeinated options you enjoy, like herbal teas or milks infused with herbs.

Tip #4: Avoid naps. Rest is very important, so if you need a nap now and then, that’s fine. Similar to caffeine, napping late in the day can have you up late, tired again tomorrow, and continuing in this vicious cycle. If your focus is creating a solid bedtime routine, avoid naps while your body gets used to its new schedule.

Tip #5: Have bed boundaries. Stay out of bed when you’re reading, doing homework, etc. The bed should ideally only be used for sleeping. In cramped quarters, sometimes your bed becomes a couch, a workspace, and more — so if you can’t avoid it entirely, make sure to have boundaries around when and how you use your bed so you don’t end up associating it with stressful test prep.

Tip #6: Reduce screen time. It seems like our entire lives can be lived through screens, but they do a number on our body’s natural rhythms! For one to two hours before bed, do your best to avoid screens: put the phone down, turn off the TV, and quiet down the house. The blue light from electronics interrupts your body’s natural circadian rhythm and can keep you awake well past bedtime.

Tip #7: Use calming techniques. Try breathing, reading, stretching, or meditating before bed. Creating a calm mindset before attempting to sleep is ideal. If you try to jump in bed with a thousand things on your mind it can keep you awake well past your planned bedtime. 

Tip #8: Reduce alcohol and smoking. Smoking and alcohol create fragmented sleep that interrupts our sleep cycles! If you do choose to partake, try to consume either substance early, preferably 4 hours before bedtime.

Tip #9: Get some sun. Sun exposure is a key driver of circadian rhythms that can encourage better sleep quality. Getting enough sun exposure provides us with many other benefits like vitamin D but, don’t forget your sunscreen! 

Tip #10: Make it dark! As much as possible, create a comfortable sleep space that is dark and cool. Many people overheat, sweat, toss and turn at night, interrupting their sleep. Closing your curtains, turning off all lights, and letting in cool air creates an ideal sleeping space.

A small glass jar with lavender sprigs inside.

Photo by Heather Ford on Unsplash

Tip #11: Use aromatherapy. An oil diffuser, roll-on, or essential oil room spray can help you wind down for sleep. Use light scents such as lavender, which is shown to produce neural activity that creates a calming effect. Lavender is great at alleviating  symptoms of anxiety and other stressors. Chamomile, frankincense, and other essential oils are great options too! Check out EO Products for ideas.

Tip #12: Don’t watch the clock. If you can’t sleep, don’t look at the clock to check the time. If you aren’t falling asleep after about twenty minutes of having your eyes closed, get up, stretch, read a book and then try again.

Bonus Tip: Get healthier bedding. What you sleep ON is just as important as your habits around sleep! If possible, upgrade to a more comfortable bed to avoid tossing and turning. If you can’t get a new mattress, try an organic mattress pad, pillows, and sheets to give your body a break from chemicals. For eco-friendly, organic bedding options check out our favorite sleep brands Naturepedic and Coyuchi

Here’s to better sleep in 2022 and beyond!

 

Author

  • Aly is a senior at the University of Oregon, studying Psychology and Sociology focusing on environmental issues. She grew up in Oakland California, where she saw the impacts of environmental racism and injustice within her own city. After graduating this June, she wants to work for an environmental nonprofit that focuses on environmental justice and giving a voice to indigenous and underserved communities that are underrepresented in protections and policy. In her free time, Aly enjoys hiking, traveling, spending time with pets, and wants to begin raising butterflies.