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Off to College, Probably Not Off to Sleep -- Part 2

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Ah, there's nothing quite like dorm room living:

  • Tight quarters.
  • Old, rickety furniture and carpeting.
  • A small, hard bed.
  • Thin walls and rowdy neighbors.
  • Late-night hallway parties.
  • Perhaps a humming mini-refrigerator and an annoying roommate with whom you share absolutely nothing in common.

Now, that might not sound so pleasant if you're over the age of, say 30, but for many college students, it's acceptable--a kind of hazing period during the transition from high school to the big school.

But none of this bodes well for sleep hygiene. I don't know any college student who isn't sleep deprived and living on caffeine.

Last week, I dispensed some secrets to settling into college life without losing too much sleep over it. The dorm room deserves special attention.


It's where college students will spend a great deal of time mixing attempts to get some shut-eye and a host of other activities--socializing, writing papers, studying, talking on the phone, hanging out, listening to music, and so on.

Whether it's your first-born making the move to college or you yourself are about to move on up, heed these dorm room makeover tips: 

  • If possible, strategically arrange the bedroom furniture around any incoming light and noise.
  • Face the bed west if possible so that you don't get direct sunlight in the morning.
  • Avoid placing the bed directly across from a window that faces east (or you will be rising with the sun).
  • If you can get away from the noise but that puts you in the light, move away from the noise and buy some blackout shades.
  • Consider the use of a room divider or screen. This will give you more privacy and help dampen light (and some noise) coming from your roommate.
  • Decorate the area around the bed differently than the rest of the room. Keep it clutter-free, and try not to snuggle up with your cell phone. Teddy bears are better sleepmates.
  • Splurge on good bedding materials that are comfortable for you:
  • soften up a hard mattress with a featherbed (which is like a big body pillow you rest on top of the mattress),
  • lots of pillows
  • consider a mattress topper, and
  • a plush comforter.
  • Keep high-wattage lights away from the bed. Most dorm rooms are equipped with desks. Keep the high-wattage lights there and install low-wattage lights (45 watts or less) anywhere near the bed.
  • Position your entertainment, television and/or computer area so it's not directly aligned with your line of vision when you're in bed. Again consider the use of covers for the monitor and turning off the CPU itself at night.
  • Bedside sleepsavers:
  • Eye shades.
  • Ear plugs.
  • Sound machine to wash out background noise.
  • Reading lamp or book light.
  • Drape clip. If the room is equipped with draperies, try clipping the drapes together at night using a chip clip so there's no light leaking through the crack.
  • Aromatherapy.
  • Watch out for alarm clocks that light up the whole room.

But all that aside, I'll admit that the most challenging task of all awaits: Having that straightforward conversation with your roommate(s) about the "rules."

What if one of you needs to stay up late finishing a lab report, tapping on a laptop with the lights on? What if your roommate wants to invite the entire floor to party in your room until the wee hours of the morning on the night you've promised yourself to go to bed early?

How will you manage living with someone who likes to keep to a totally different sleep schedule than you?

Conversation.

You must have it.

Early and often.

Good luck, my aspiring graduates. Cheers to the new academic year.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor

This article on dorm room makeovers is also available at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.