It’s no secret that a proper sleep schedule and college life rarely go hand in hand. In fact, the sight of them together in a sentence almost seems like an oxymoron. After classes, it’s lab; after lab, it’s work; after work, it’s clubs; after clubs, it’s homework… but wait, it’s already 3 am?? It just seems like the time is slipping away.
We as college students are constantly being pulled in different directions, and it seems the only time we have to completely rest our minds is bedtime, but even then, with only 6 hours until our alarm goes off, we so often deal with sleep deprivation. The morning rolls around and we are practically zombies, dragging our jumbo coffee to dreaded 8 am lecture.
But, fret not! Here are some ways to get a more restful, fulfilling sleep in college when you finally get the chance to craw into your sheets.
I know before bed it’s super tempting to just scroll through Instagram, or check just one last time if your 8 am was cancelled (even though it never is!), but resist the urge and turn away from your screen. According to a Dr. Nakamori Suganuma, of Osaka University, Japan, “The exposure to light stimulates the brain and creates a false alertness and stimulation.” Your electronics are telling your brain that it’s time for wakey-wakey, not sleepy-sleepy, causing you to stare at your ceiling for an hour after going to bed pondering why we can’t read dogs’ brains yet (is that just me??). Putting down any electronic stimulation for at least an hour before bed time will help you quickly fall into deeper, more restful sleeps. So you can cut your morning iced-coffee to only three shots of espresso instead of four.
Speaking of caffeine, we all know not to drink coffee before bed, but did you know according to the National Sleep Foundation, it takes about six hours for only half of the caffeine from a standard size beverage to be out of your body’s system? And it’s not just coffee that’s the culprit. Soda, tea, and even chocolate contain caffeine that can inhibit a proper sleep. Try avoiding caffeine about 5 to 6 hours before bedtime, and cutting it out completely at least three hours before, and trust me, you’ll thank yourself in the morning. If you’re really craving something to give a little pep to your step, or need to get through that final study sess, try a decaf tea with only a little bit of sugar, and let the placebo effect run its course.
When it comes to study time, avoid your bed like the plague. I know I’ve gotten into the habit of using my bed as a desk, because blankets are better than sad wooden desk chairs, obviously. But, scientists are telling us that when we use our bed for activities other than sleeping, like homework or even reading, our brain gets confused, and starts associating those activities with your bed, which can lead to mental stimulation you don’t want when it’s time to sleep. If you really need to focus, try going to the library, or that special study nook you found on campus, which you’re sure no one else knows about. And if you absolutely can’t stand doing your work in a desk, or you just like the comfort of doing it at home, try a comfy chair designated for homework.
I’m a firm believer that naps are one of the greatest things our bodies can do. I mean, I wouldn’t be able to get through my day without a nap; I look forward to naptime. So nap, nap hard, but nap responsibly. One of the biggest things I took away from my own health clinic on campus is that naps should be about 20 to 30 minutes long, and they should never exceed an hour. When they do, your body thinks it’s bedtime and sends you in to your deeper sleeping phases, which can make you feel even groggier when you get up. Also try having a cup of coffee or tea right before you fall asleep. In can get you in that cozy, sleepy mood; and if you’re taking a 20 to 30 minute nap, it takes about that time for the caffeine to kick in anyways, so you’ll wake up at optimal alertness.
Let’s get back to the source- your bed! Try making your bed a heaven of comfort, so it’s something you look forward to. I know how difficult it is to make your drab dorm feel like home, but try piling on the fuzzy blankets; don’t be afraid to throw a few stuffed animals on there; hang up some twinkly lights to set the mood—whatever works for you and your comfort. And invest in a good mattress topper! When you feel most comfortable, you’re going to fall asleep faster, and if your bed has enough support, you won’t be waking up in the middle of the night from any aches or pains.
Lastly, understanding the kind of schedule your body works best with and being able to communicate your preferences is essential to getting a restful sleep. For instances, I know I’m a night owl; I work best when the sun isn’t shining, and my bedtime is usually around midnight. That also means waking up for an 8 am is near to impossible, so I try my best to schedule around those preferences. But if you’re one of those people that can spring out of bed without a bullhorn alarm, then scheduling morning classes means your school day is over faster, and you’ll have more daylight to do your work, if that’s what you work best in. The second component to this is being able to verbalize these to a roommate. When they are aware of your bedtime, they will (hopefully!) be considerate, and not come barging in the door at 2 am, ready to talk about their day.
A proper sleep is essential to performing your best in and out of the classroom. Even with the crazy schedule us college kids lead, it isn’t impossible to get a restful, fulfilling sleep that will prepare you for the day ahead. So put your phone wayyyyy over there, put on your twinkle lights and craw into bed. It’s time for a good night’s sleep.