How I Overcome College Student Sleep Struggles

Clearly, students are suffering when they are not sleeping well. By improving sleep habits on a daily basis, college students can help to improve their academic performance, memory recall, and concentration.
04/18/2016 09:47 pm ET Updated Apr 15, 2017
Tired Indian student laying on stack of textbooks
Tired Indian student laying on stack of textbooks

Wake up at 6am. Get to the gym by 7am. Work from 9am to 2pm. Homework from 2pm to 5pm. Class from 6pm to 8pm. Cook and eat dinner by 9pm. More homework or just trying to catch up on life from 9pm to midnight. Finally, 1am bedtime. It's crazy to think that this has been my daily routine. Within the blink of an eye, my day starts and ends; literally, where does the time go? This is me trying to balance my life as a college student, working as a graduate assistant, and trying to make time for my boyfriend and my dog. I can only imagine the other crazy schedules that are out there for students who are involved in student organizations, sports teams, have full time jobs, etc. What a life college is!

Sleep is something that many college students constantly talk about but can never find enough time for. Just like the rest of America, college students are getting an average of about 6 hours of sleep per night (University Health Center, 2016); and this is on a good night. Because of the copious amounts of stress students go through, as well as the activities and studies they are balancing, students are becoming more sleep-deprived and it may be affecting their overall performance.

On average, college students should be getting about 9 hours of sleep every night (Forquer, 2008). However, many college students may only get half of that. A 2008 study by Dr. LeAnne Forquer to assess the sleep patterns of college students to identify problem areas and potential solutions found similar results to the American College Health Association's findings (ACHA, 2003): college students have long sleep latencies, short sleep time, and frequent night walking (Forquer, 2008). Clearly, students are suffering when they are not sleeping well. By improving sleep habits on a daily basis, college students can help to improve their academic performance, memory recall, and concentration (University Health Center, 2016). Who wouldn't love to do better on exams simply by sleeping better?

Everyone is different when it comes to managing their sleep. Here are some helpful tips from the Mayo Clinic (2014) that I have used to try to ensure I am getting enough sleep every single day.
  1. Stick to a sleep schedule. Because my original sleep habits were not healthy, I now try to go to bed by 10pm instead of midnight so that I can wake up at 6am, even on the weekends. It may seem crazy to wake up that early on the weekends. But my body has become so accustomed to this schedule that I can't even sleep in past 7am. Not only does setting a sleep schedule reinforce your body's sleep-wake schedule, but it may also support higher quality sleep.
  2. Pay attention to what you eat and drink. I never go to bed hungry or stuffed, and I always make sure I haven't eaten at least 3 hours before bed. Also, watch the nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol intake right before bed. Nicotine and caffeine can take some time to wear off, which really affects your sleep schedule.
  3. Create a bedtime ritual. Do the same thing every night before you go to bed. I always make an effort to turn my TV off about half an hour before I sleep. On my phone, I have an app that reduces bright white and blue light screen emissions.
  4. Get comfortable. Make sure the room is comfortable for you: big fluffy pillows, thick blanket, cool breeze from the outside air, etc. Now doesn't that sound comfy? Another huge tip that I benefit from is not using my bed as my studying area; only use it for sleep. Now, my bed has become my throne and only sleep shall pass.
  5. Limit daytime naps. College is the time where students are like kindergartners all over again; they love their naptime! However, long naps during the day interfere with a good sleep at night. I try to limit my naps to around 30 minutes, if I need it. Sometimes, a good 10 minute power nap helps as well. At the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, there are massage chairs that you can sleep in for 15 or 30 minutes in the Rebel Wellness Zone (located on the 2nd floor of the Student Recreation and Wellness Center). This is the best way to get a quick nap in, while getting a relaxing massage at the same time!
  6. Include physical activity in your daily routine. I have to include working out at least 5 times a week. Just be sure to not exercise too close to bedtime. If you're like me, you'll have too much energy right before bed, and you won't fall asleep easier. Try working out before your day starts; get it out of the way and boost your energy to take on the day!
  7. Manage stress. I jot down all of my thoughts running through my mind right before I go to bed. That way, not only will I remember it for tomorrow, but I'm organizing myself on how to tackle the day.

These tips are so simple, but they sometimes require conscious effort. And by all means, we are all very different people and respond in very different ways as to how we can fall asleep better. By utilizing these simple tips every day, not only do I feel more productive with what I do, but I also feel revitalized and rejuvenated to take on the world!

For all of you at UNLV, if you would like to discuss more about the importance of sleep, check out the Huffington Post's #SleepRevolution College Tour. Arianna Huffington will also be there to talk about her new book! Wednesday, April 20, 2016 from 11:45am - 1:45pm at the Tam Alumni Center.

References:

American College Health Association. The American College Health Association National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA), spring 2003 Reference Group Report. J Am Coll Health. 2005;53:199-210.
Forquer, L. M., Camden, A. E., Gabriau, K. M., & Johnson, M. Sleep patterns of college students at a public university. Journal of American College Health, 56(5), 563-565. DOI: 10.3200/JACH.56.5.563-565
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2014). Sleep tips: 7 steps to better sleep. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/sleep/art-20048379?pg=2
University Health Center. (2016). Sleep rocks! ...get more of it! University of Georgia. Retrieved from https://www.uhs.uga.edu/sleep/