09/28/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Off to College, Probably Not Off to Sleep: Part 1

The dog days of summer are fast coming to a close. In the coming weeks, millions of college-bound students will be hitting the books again and adjusting back into university life. For first timers, this is an
exciting time period. For veteran upper classmen, it's also a thrilling time to know that you're close to being fully independent and out in the "real"  world on your own.

But for both newbies and soon-to-be graduates alike, the one thing that seems to get the best of them every single year is sleep. It's not hard to get that "A" in not enough sleep. Translation: serious deprivation.

Okay, so I'll admit, it comes with the territory. College life is, well, college! A rite of passage, and we all have our top secret stories from then. The two biggest culprits of a sleepless college student:

  • Academics and late-night studying.
  • "Social" studies and late-night partying.

You can't necessarily forgo either of the above on a consistent basis. But your body wants sleep on a consistent basis, which can conflict with the trappings of a successful and fun college life. And, without mom or dad around to nag about bedtime (and, might I add, wake time in order to be in class on time), the transition back to school life with all its demands and nocturnal distractions can be difficult. 

So let me offer some realistic solutions that can ease any college student back into the swing of things quickly and restfully: 

  • Time management: this is a no brainer, albeit hard to do well. When homework, the social calendar, and sleep all call for attention, which goes first? How can you maximize all three?
  • Set clear boundaries. Tell yourself you won't party past a certain time; keep to a regular sleep-wake schedule as best you can, even on the weekend. Don't use the 24-hour library. Keep a routine study session daily, say from 4 to 7 at night, and don't let social distractions get in the way that will later have you back in the books past midnight.
  • Turn off your cell phone after a certain hour, say 10 pm.
  • Establish coping skills and stress-reduction practices. College comes with an enormous set of stresses and challenges. Strategies to help balance your stress will have a huge impact in your ability to get things done, and yes, get a good night's sleep.
  • Don't forget to exercise. The freshmen 15 isn't just related to a higher intake of (usually buffet-style) food; most college students forgo regular exercise and sleep--the double whammy for packing on the pounds.
  • Enlist a support buddy to keep you on track. Having someone who can watch out for you and let you know when it's time to re-think your habits can be a lifesaver.  And doing the same for them reaps benefits for you.
  • Become a pro napper. Napping can be difficult to pull off out in the corporate world. But there's ample time to nod off in the afternoon library (just don't be caught doing it in class). It's exercise for the brain, after all.

College students get free passes for keeping their computers in their dorm rooms, but watch out for those bright screensavers. Before you put yourself to bed, put your computer to sleep.

In part II, I'll share my ideas for the ultimate dorm room makeover. It's a little different than refiguring your bedroom back home. Even in an itty bitty room the size of a closet or bathroom, you can create a sanctuary for sleep. And yes, even study.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD

The Sleep Doctor™

This article on college students and sleep is also available at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.