How to Catch More ZZZs in College

By Kirsten Licht, University Health Center health promotions analyst

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard that sleep is important.

Obviously.

But why is it important? Because without it, your memory, cognition and motivation can suffer. The benefits of quality, consistent sleep can include:

  • Mood regulation
  • Healthy emotional responses – You won’t be as irritated or angry when you get enough sleep.
  • Better decision-making – Our decision-making abilities are improved after a good night of sleep. There is a phenomenon called decision fatigue — this mean the more decisions we have to make in a day, the worse we are at making them. Decision fatigue makes us more susceptible to temptation and more likely to engage in reckless behavior. Sleep resets our decision-making abilities back to optimal levels and restores our willpower and resolve.
  • Improved relationships with others
  • Stress management
  • Improved immune system – This means you won’t be as likely to get sick and miss class.
  • Metabolic function – If we aren’t getting enough sleep, glucose metabolism is impaired and the hormones that makes us feel full (leptin) or hungry (ghrelin) are not regulated.

Not only is sleep important for the benefits listed above, but also because, when poor sleep habits persist over time, it can cause serious health problems. Yikes!

College students need an average of 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, but that is often easier said than done because of:

  • Academic pressures
  • Time management issues
  • Stress
  • Balancing academic and social lives
  • Over-commitment

Although a recent study found that college students aren’t as sleep-deprived as is commonly assumed, there is still much room for improvement. The more you practice healthy sleep habits and make a conscious effort to sleep the recommended amount each night, the better you will feel.

Practical Tips for Improved Sleep

  • Create a realistic sleep schedule (A time will you go to bed and wake up each day).
  • Plan ahead and protect your sleep time by minimizing other late night demands.
  • Develop a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Try not to drink caffeinated beverages after lunch.
  • Keep your bedroom as comfortable as possible (Dark, quiet, clean and a comfortable temperature).
  • Use your bed for sleeping and sex only (Not as a place to study or watch TV).

Take a (Short) Power Nap

Strategic napping is a great way to rejuvenate the brain! The benefits of napping are directly tied to the length of your nap. Naps 10-30 minutes in length are best for increasing productivity, cognitive function and memory consolidation. After 30 minutes of napping, you are more likely to feel groggy, tired and irritable.

Be Wary of Alcohol

Alcohol has long been known to reduce REM sleep, the state in which most dreams happen and during which memories are stored and learning occurs. While alcohol may help induce sleep, overall it is more disruptive to sleep, particularly in the second half of the night. Additionally, alcohol often comes with staying up later than normal, which will also negatively affect sleep patterns.

People who get enough sleep are less likely to binge drink. A study published in the February 2015 journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research shows that sleep issues can actually predict alcohol use later on. (Source: Prospective Relationship Between Poor Sleep and Substance-Related Problems in a National Sample of Adolescent, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acer.12618/abstract)

Get a Free Sleep Kit

If you need help sleeping, stop by the Health Promotion & Outreach office in the lower level of the University Health Center to grab a free sleep kit, which includes a sleep mask, tea, ear plugs and more. Only while supplies last!

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