Though being fatigued is a common and unavoidable side effect of being a college student faced with a barrage of readings, tests and deadlines, it’s not a pleasant experience. Despite the feeling of sleepiness that many of us fight with visits to the Bistro and power naps after classes, being constantly tired seems like a common and even harmless complaint. However, it’s anything but.
Recent research suggests that not getting enough sleep, especially for an extended period of time, can have significant negative effects on one’s mental well-being and attitude, making it harder to do many of the things students need to do. You deserve to know what you can do to keep your brain functioning at its best. Let’s focus on why it’s important to get good rest, as well as some tested strategies to make sure you get the most out of your zzzzs.
A recent survey by the University of Georgia put the average amount of sleep a college student gets at around five to seven hours a night. Why is this a problem? Well, for some students, it isn’t. If you feel like your amount of sleep is sufficient, there’s no need to switch up your schedule. But, if you’re like the quarter of students who replied to the survey saying they felt a lack of sleep was hurting their academic performance or social lives — making it harder to study, turn in assignments and stay in contact with their friends because they were so tired — it might be time for a change.
Our bodies work on an internal system correlated to external cues. This “circadian rhythm” is responsible for our sleep/wake cycle, among other things, and is based on ambient light, recent meals and even temperature, according to the website Verywellheath.com. Not following your circadian rhythm is harmless in the short run; pulling an all-nighter once in a while isn’t the end of the world.
However, problems arise when our bodies are consistently confused. When the body’s signals, like yawning and eye drooping, are ignored for long enough, the body can become confused and get mixed signals. Though this isn’t as noticeable as sleep deprivation (the state where people can walk around like zombies and have hallucinations), being off one’s circadian rhythm can still have major psychological effects like increasing insomnia, anxiety, paranoia and trouble focusing, according to the National Institutes of Health website. College students, the website notes, are already at increased risk for the development of mood and sleep disorders. Not getting enough sleep can serve to prime kids for developing disorders, or can exacerbate pre-existing disorders present in the individual. It’s essential that students get enough quality sleep.
“Not getting enough sleep can serve to prime kids for developing disorders, or can exacerbate pre-existing disorders present in the individual.”
What can be done to help us college students, then? Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of research has gone into answering this question. Multiple sources conclude that going to bed earlier and waking up later can be beneficial. However, as a report from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine points out, this option may not be on the table for everyone. In lieu of that, most responses include the improvement of “sleep hygiene,” or certain habits that can alter how well one sleeps.
The National Sleep Foundation lists some common ways to improve sleep quality without necessarily adding to sleep quantity. Its website lists strategies like exercising for 10 minutes before bed and avoiding caffeine and other stimulants for four hours before bedtime. Students should also establish their beds as places just for sleeping, not for studying. This tip can help create a kind of subconscious division between places for sleeping and places not for sleeping..
The National Sleep Foundation has a few tips for technology and its role in sleep quality. Screens should be set to warmer colors closer to bedtime and phones should be turned off for at least 30 minutes before going to bed. This last strategy may be difficult, but has proven results. One study found that when people slept without their phones in arms reach, they reported both better quality of sleep and had a lower rates of mood disorder development than their peers.
Sleep is important. Whether you’re a napping champion or a night owl, everyone deserves to feel rested, productive and ready to take on their day. Using these strategies can be a step in the right direction toward getting better sleep and making each day — and night — its very best.