How to Sleep Better in College

Getting some z's while in school is possible

When I first got to college, sleeping was…a struggle to say the least. I had a roommate on a completely different schedule. I was quiet. She was loud. I had a crazy class schedule, a job, and a social life. You know how it goes. I had to find ways to make sleep a priority in my life because I wouldn’t have been able to function without it. Going without sleep is a recipe for disaster, making it hard to perform your best academically. But you also need sleep to take care of yourself. Self-care involves more than just skincare masks and comfort food, you know. Sleep is one of the most important things you need in college, so here are a few tricks that can help you get your eight(ish) hours—starting tonight.

Things to do right before bedtime

You don’t have to wait until a school break or summer vacation to start sleeping better—try these tips tonight to help you feel sleepy sooner:

1)  Put your devices away before bedStudies have shown that exposure to blue light before sleeping can impact your ability to fall asleep, keeping you awake much longer. Reduce your screen time before bed and consider applying “nighttime mode” settings to your devices to make your screen’s blue light and brightness much easier on your eyes.

2)  Avoid alcohol and caffeine late at night. A lot of people love a good cup of coffee to wake them up in the morning, but you definitely need to avoid it when it’s time to sleepAlcohol can act the same way—it makes it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. If you’re 21+, a glass of wine can be calming and make you feel drowsy, but in excess, you can forget about getting a good night’s sleep. 

3)  Make sure your sleeping environment is coolPeople tend to relax and fall asleep more easily in cooler environments because their body’s temperature drops as they sleep. In dorms, sometimes you might not be able to control the temperature. Invest in a small fan to keep you cool.

4)  Meditate. Nothing says self-care like meditating. Meditating can help relax the body and the mind, making it easier for you to wind down, de-stress, and feel ready for bed. Doing some nice stretches or deep breathing exercises can really do the trick.

How to fall asleep

Now you’re in bed—so what next? It can be hard to just hop in the bed, close your eyes, and fall asleep. These techniques can help.

1)  Look up soothing noises or use apps to whisk you off to dream land. Why buy a white noise machine when you can find it online for free? Look up white noise, brown noise, or an ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) audio to calm you down and lull you to sleep.

2)  If you love quiet, try earplugs. Some people (including me) can’t fall asleep unless it’s totally quiet in the room. Earplugs are a classic and inexpensive way to ensure your sleeping space is silent.

3)  Use a sleep mask or blackout curtains to block any light. I had a roommate who loved to leave the TV on all night—that worked for her, but not for me. Wearing a sleep mask shut out all that extra light and helped me sleep so much better. If you have windows that let light onto your face, you can try a mask or invest in blackout curtains to keep your sleeping environment as dark as you’d need it to be.

4)  Track your sleep with your phone or other smart device. There are plenty of apps you can download onto your phone or accessories you can purchase to track your sleep. How long you were asleep, how long you were restless—there’s a system that can monitor it all. This info can be useful if you’re creating a new sleep schedule for yourself or just want to know what your sleep habits are.

Healthy habits for better rest

There are a few things that you can incorporate into your life long-term that aren’t just quick fixes right before you hit the hay. Create these habits to get good sleep in college and beyond.

1)  Exercise. Exercising for at least 30 minutes a day not only is good for your overall health, but it’s so good for getting great sleep. Whether you go hard at the gym or take a casual stroll, any physical activity will help. Working up a sweat is exhausting, but it can lead to you falling asleep quicker and staying asleep.

2)  Avoid taking long naps or naps too late in the day. I used to be a frequent napper (like, every day after class) and my naps used to be at least an hour long. Eventually, I found it really hard to fall asleep at night. Naps can stunt your sleep routine if you’re not careful, making it hard to feel tired when you should be sleeping. If you need to nap, make sure you’re asleep for no longer than 10 to 20 minutes, and try to nap before 2 p.m.

3)  Avoid sitting or lying in bed when you’re not sleeping. I was guilty of this in college. I used to eat, sleep, study, and hang out with my friends from the comfort of my bed. That’s cool, but my body found it hard to know when I should be wide awake and when I should be sleeping. By allowing your bed to be a space only for sleep, your body may begin to associate feeling sleepy with lying down.

4)  Eat a balanced dietThree meals a day can sometimes feel like overdoing it in college, but it’s important to customize a meal routine that works for you and your busy schedule. Making sure that your diet gives you all the vitamins and minerals you need daily will help improve your sleep.

5)  Avoid pulling all-nighters. Sometimes, an all-nighter can’t be helped. However, too many will definitely hurt you in the long run. By staying up all night, you’ll feel completely drained during the day when you need to be awake. If you start this cycle, you’ll end up being most tired during the day when class, work, and other activities are going on. You’ll be wide awake when everyone else is sleeping. Try to study earlier in the day or evening so you’re not up at 3 a.m. cramming for an exam.

6)  Work on your time management skills. Getting adequate rest is something else that you have to work into your schedule. Setting deadlines for yourself and forming a sleep schedule is key to getting good sleep in college. For me, I refused to do any work past 10 p.m. After that, it was my time to do whatever I wanted, which mostly consisted of my nighttime routine before bed. Setting boundaries to focus on you-time is an important element of self-care that can help you manage your time and sleep better.

Sleep = self-care at its finest

In college, there’s a lot going on. Putting our physical health first isn’t always on our radar when there are so many other things to do. But remember: you can’t put your best foot forward if you don’t value yourself and your health. Taking care of yourself is so important, and sleep is crucial for that. It’s tempting to stay up all night on social media or binge a new show, so you need some discipline to prioritize sleep—but it’s just one of those things you have to do, and you should start tonight. Happy sleeping!

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