Sleep Deprivation in College Students: The Facts & Consequences
Learn how sleep deprivation impacts success, health and happiness among college students.
People say college is the best time of your life, but it can also be pretty rough on student’s sleep. Sure, it’s a time for discovering what you want to do with your life, meeting new friends, and learning, but it’s a lot of work. Between classes, studying, work, and a social life, sleep too often gets put on the back burner. Late-night study sessions and the stress aren’t helping the situation, either. In fact, the CDC reports one in three adults aren’t getting enough sleep.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society recommends at least seven hours every night. Skimping out on those hours can lead to weight gain, a weakened immune system, problems staying focused, and depression and anxiety.
Getting a good night’s sleep is going to improve brain function, learning, health, and overall mood. Not only will you feel more energized, but you’ll perform better throughout the day. Students who get more sleep are shown to have better grades. Plus, you’ll have the focus and motivation to make the most out of your day, performing better at work, sports, and all other tasks. Learn more about sleep deprivation in college students from our recent study.
It’s not so easy to simply say, “I want to get more sleep.” But fortunately, there are so many things you can do to start improving today. Check out these 52 ways college students can get more and better sleep.
College students are notorious for pulling an “all-nighter” to write the paper due tomorrow or study for the next morning’s exam. While it might feel like that extra time is helping you and proof of a good work ethic, you’re wrong. In reality, you’re hurting yourself in the long run. Getting a good night’s sleep is going to improve memory and thinking skills, as well as cognition. You aren’t going to retain information the same way as you would when you’re well-rested. Instead, study a week or so leading up to the exam, and don’t save everything for the last minute.
Going to bed and waking up at different times every day could drive your sleep pattern completely out of whack. Try to keep your bedtime around the same every day, and the same goes for wake-up times. This might be particularly tough on the weekends when you’re tempted to sleep in, but overall, the improved sleep health is much worth an earlier morning.
College is truly a juggling act. You’re trying to balance the pressures of school, work, extracurricular activities, and a social life, all while trying to figure out what you want to do with your life. Unfortunately, for many, sleep isn’t a top priority. And you need to make sleep a priority. Good sleep, along with eating right and exercise, is the foundation of what you need to do everything else well. If you’re not prioritizing sleep, your grades, work performance, and even general mood will all suffer.
Great roommates can add a lot of fun to the college experience. But it can also mean trouble sleeping if roommates are noisy or on a different schedule than you. Be open and honest with roommates about your efforts to improve your sleep. Set up some “house rules” on loud music or groups of guests past a certain hour.
Sharing a dorm room or dealing with less than cooperative roommates or neighbors can make a peaceful night a bit rough. Try earplugs or a noise machine to reduce the noise if all else fails. Hanging a sheet over your bed can also reduce the stimuli from a night owl roomie.
Watching TV or playing on your phone, computer, or iPad is keeping you awake at night. These devices keep your brain active, and it reduces your melatonin, which helps you fall asleep. Instead, put your screens to bed at least 30 minutes before you’re getting ready for bed yourself. To reduce the temptation, opt to not even have a TV in your room.
Staying on track during the day can make way for a better night. Create a to-do list and disburse what you need to do during the day accordingly. This way you’re less stressed at night thinking about everything you didn’t get to, and you won’t have to stay up late trying to get it all done.
There’s an app for almost everything, and getting more sleep is no exception. Here are a few examples of the dozens out there:
The goal is to get your room as dark as possible for bedtime to allow you to fall into a deep sleep. Lights from the hallway or a street light in your window can let the light seep in. And if it’s an early sunrise, you might get woken up before you want to. Put up some dark curtains that limit the amount of light that can get in and bother you. A sleep mask for your eyes can be helpful, too, especially if you’re sharing a room.
That cup of coffee might be your saving grace in the morning, but avoid caffeine in the evening. Don’t consume caffeine (or limit it) four to six hours before you’re headed to bed. It’s not just coffee though. Soda, chocolate, some teas, and even some medicines have caffeine, too.
Wind down before you head to sleep. One way to do this is to soak in a warm bath. You can customize your bath by adding fragrant oils to destress or soaking salts if you have sore muscles.
Instead of turning to the television when you’re ready for bed, opt for soothing tunes instead. You can find relaxing playlists on music apps and YouTube. Think instrumental spa, meditation, soundscapes, or light classical – whatever your jam is.
When you don’t feel tired but it’s getting to be about that time for bed, read a book instead of turning on the tv or grabbing your phone for entertainment. Don’t start the assignment in your textbook or read something stressful but instead find a nice book that you read for yourself.
Limiting the activities you do in your bed helps you associate it with a place for sleep. Save the studying and snacking for another spot. Other activities, especially stressful ones, can cause you to associate your bed with a high-energy spot instead of a place to wind down and sleep.
While alcohol can definitely make you feel drowsy, it’s not going to help your sleep quality. Drinking alcohol before bed reduces your ability to fall into a deep sleep. You’re more likely to have a night of restless sleep. For healthy alcohol consumption when you’re 21, it’s best to drink in moderation, stay hydrated with water, and never turn to alcohol as a sleep aid.
If you’re not getting enough sleep during the night, a nap during the day can seem like a good option to rest and recoup. However, if you’re napping too long or too late in the day, it’s just going to perpetuate the cycle of not sleeping well at night. Experts advise to limit a nap to 30 minutes, so be sure to set an alarm if you’re taking a quick cat nap. Shoot to get a doze in at about 2 or 3 p.m. to avoid negatively impacting your night sleep.
College can seem like it’s built to wreak havoc on your sleep between studying and homework, late nights out, and constant stimuli. But odds are there are also plenty of resources right at your fingertips for you to use to succeed at sleeping.
College is notoriously a time for a super slim budget but buying a poor-quality mattress is only going to hurt you in the long run. Think of your mattress purchase as an investment. You are ideally spending seven hours every night on it, and a good sleep is going to impact the rest of your day. A good mattress isn’t only going to help you fall and stay asleep, but it will reduce the aches and soreness you might be getting from a poor quality mattress.
As you’re designing your room and buying accessories to make it your own, think about pieces, images, and colors that are soothing and will help when it comes to bedtime. Skip a lot of bold, warm colors, such as reds, pinks, and bright yellow and orange, as well as super stimulating decor. Think about adding soothing colors, including grays, greens, blues, and cream. Incorporate plants, peaceful paintings, and photos of scenic spots with positive memories. Stock your bed with cozy blankets and plush pillows.
Before bed, make yourself a nice soothing hot cup of caffeine-free tea to help wind down. Chamomile is a good option for calming down, but there are also plenty of bedtime blends and stress relief tea out there. Steer clear of anything with caffeine or bold flavors that could stimulate you.
The sweet, florally smell of lavender is linked to reducing stress and creating a peaceful slumber. You can work in the scent in so many different ways, too. Try out lavender-scented bath oil or bath salts, laundry detergent or fabric softener for sheets, body wash or body lotion, candles, and more.
What you are doing during the day is going to impact when you fall asleep and if you stay asleep. College, and life in general, can get overwhelming and stressful. Learn how you can better manage your day to reduce your stress. Prevent stress when you can and find the healthiest ways to deal with it when it inevitably comes. Here are some quick tips to reduce your stress, but find what works for you:
If you’re coming from a chaotic day, jumping in your bed at night and trying to fall asleep instantly is only going to stress you out more. Instead, consider making your own little sleep ritual to do at night. Do what works best for you. Incorporate tips mentioned above, such as drinking a cup of chamomile tea, a hot bath with lavender, or winding down with soothing music.
Take time out of your busy day to quiet your mind and enjoy the present moment. Meditation has been proven to lower your heart rate, improve concentration, improve cardiovascular health, improve immune health, and reduce stress and anxiety. It also is known to help make people more calm, centered, and self-aware. Ultimately, meditation during the day is going to lead to better sleep at night. If you’re new to meditation, you can find plenty of videos online for tips on how to get started or books on the subject at your school’s library.
If you’re hungry before bed, a big meal isn’t the answer. Be cognoscente of when you’re eating throughout the day to prevent late night snacking. Plan your dinner at a time that won’t get you hungry right before bed. If you’re going to eat late at night, make it a light snack instead of another full meal.
It’s not only the amount of what you’re eating that impacts sleep but also the food itself. Steer clear of fried, fatty, acidic, or spicy foods along with sugar and refined carbs. These will keep you up at night in more ways than one.
For a snack before bed, reach for a banana, walnuts, yogurt, low-sugar cereal, almonds, or cherries to help you sleep better.
Sleep experts say that exposing yourself to natural sunlight during the morning and early afternoon can help your sleep at night. The light during the day will also increase your alertness and energy levels throughout the day.
When you exercise, it’s going to help you maintain a healthy weight and overall good health, which ultimately helps you sleep better. Exercise is also shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, two issues that commonly cause insomnia. Check out your school’s fitness center to see if they offer free fitness classes. A school I.D. could also score you a student discount at local gyms, yoga studios, or other fitness spots.
Regular exercise is going to help you sleep better and improve your overall health. However, the time of day you do it is important. Working out is going to boost your energy level, which is fantastic for the morning or afternoon. Saving exercise for later at night may make it more difficult to catch some Zs.
It’s no secret that smoking is horrible for your health. Cigarettes can cause cancer, stroke, heart disease, and more. But did you know they are also negatively impacting your sleep? Quit smoking for good to improve your sleep, save a ton of money, and most importantly, live a longer, healthier life. Visit smokefree.gov for more information and resources on how to quit.
Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, is important to stay hydrated and stay healthy. But as the day goes on, limit your liquid intake as it gets closer to bed. If you drink in excess before bed, there is a likely chance you’ll need to wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, interrupting your sleep. This is especially rough for anyone who then has difficulty falling back asleep.
When you’re lying in bed, ready to go to sleep, don’t fall into the common trap of thinking about tomorrow and everything on your plate. Don’t dwell on the things that went wrong during the day or other stressful problems you’re dealing with. Instead, focus on what you’re grateful for in your life or think back to peaceful locations you’ve been to, whether a local hike in the forest or clear water beach trip.
After dinner, in the early evening, prepare for your day tomorrow. If you start thinking about what you have to do tomorrow right at bed, you can easily get worked up and have trouble falling asleep. Alternatively, not preparing at all can make your mornings more stressful and throw your entire day off. Preparation looks different for everyone depending on your day. It could mean writing down a to-do list, making a schedule to stay on track, packing your lunch, setting up the coffee maker, or laying out your clothes for the day.
Simply taking some deep breaths before bed can help ease you into a slumber. Taking in a deep breath, holding for a moment, then releasing, can instantly lower your heart rate and take away a bit of tension. You don’t have to save deep breathing for right before bed though. Take a few moments out of your busy day to focus on the breath to reduce stress you might not have even realized was there.
In general, people often sleep better in a room on the cooler side (67 to 72 degrees). Regulate your room temperature with a fan. In summer months, to keep your room cooler, draw the shades during the day so sunlight doesn’t heat things up.
It happens to everyone – you’re lying in bed wanting to fall asleep, thinking about how awake you feel and everything you need to do tomorrow, and then getting anxious about how you are not sleeping. Relax and take a breath. Don’t focus on falling asleep. Instead, just simply focus on getting rest and focus on the positive, relaxing thoughts. If light music or a sound machine isn’t helping, grab a book for 30 minutes under a dim light.
We all love our pets, but if you sleep with your dog, it could be rough on your sleep quality. Your furry friend is going to toss and turn throughout the night or make noise which could wake you up. Keeping him or her separate on a dog bed is going to give you more space and help you both sleep better.
It makes sense not to spend too much time thinking about pajamas. After all, no one even sees you in them, and you’re just sleeping in them. But in reality, what you wear to bed is going to impact your sleep. Select clothes that are comfortable and help regulate body temperature. Think breathable cotton in summer and flannel in winter to keep you warm. If it’s super hot where you live, consider moisture-wicking material to reduce the sweat.
In winter, it could be tempting to reach for wool or fleece pajamas to keep warm. But these are generally going to make you quite hot and even itchy.
If your mornings are often chaotic and miserable, you’re going to start associating that with sleep. How can you make your morning better? Select an alarm that isn’t jarring but is positive instead. If you can still get a good amount of sleep, consider waking up a little earlier so you’re not as rushed. Prepare for your mornings the night before so it runs smoothly.
Insomnia and trouble sleeping are common symptoms of anxiety and depression. The same way you eat healthy, exercise, and take a vitamin for your physical health, you need to do things to take care of your emotional and mental health. Meditation, exercise, talking with trusted friends, and spending time outdoors can help alleviate anxiety. If you’re struggling with anxiety, sadness, or depression, don’t wait to ask for help. See what resources your school offers for mental health and schedule an appointment with a therapist.
Social media is a nice way to keep up with your friends and family spread out across the country, but it’s not the best bedtime activity. Scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and anything else is going to overload you with too much stimulus. It might be entertaining or fun to see videos, photos, and catch up on news, but it’s not going to ease you into sleep.
One of the best parts about college is the independence and the ability to create your own class schedule. Often, there is flexibility when you can take a certain class, depending on course demand. Keep sleep in mind when you’re choosing your class times and location. A class that ends late at night could throw your sleep schedule out the window. The same is true for an early morning class across campus.
Energy drinks have been linked to caffeine overdose, high blood pressure, nausea, and other serious health risks. Drinking them can leave you tossing and turning at night, not getting the sleep you need. If you feel like you need a bit of caffeine during the morning or early afternoon, opt for a cup of coffee or a caffeinated green tea.
You can find inexpensive sleep sprays to lightly spritz your sheets and bedroom with. These soothing scents can let the tension melt away and help you fall asleep faster.
Maybe now that you’re out of the house and living in your own college dorm room or apartment, you don’t have someone constantly telling you to clean your room. But the truth is, a clean, organized room is going to help you sleep better. Whether it’s knowingly bothering you or not, clutter causes stress. If you have a bunch of unorganized stuff all around you, it’s not going to be a good environment for rest and relaxation.
Besides adding a pop of color and nice décor to your room, curtains can help with sleep. A good set of curtains can help block out light when you’re sleeping and reduce distractions from outside.
While exercise before bed isn’t recommended, doing yoga poses that promote a restful slumber is perfectly fine. You can find plenty of relaxing routines online that ease tension and increase circulation, which is ideal. Even better, incorporate lavender and soothing music right to your yoga routine.
Whether it’s in a diffuser or an oil, aromatherapy can make falling asleep that much easier. Besides lavender, lemon, rose, ylang-ylang, and jasmine are all great aroma options to try out. Head to the store to see which scents appeal to you the most.
Don’t just grab any pillow off the shelf. Shop around and test them out so you can see what is going to help give you the most comfortable sleep. If you’re waking up through the night with neck pain, this is sure sign that the pillow is not for you. A firm pillow is often recommended for side sleepers, a medium-firm pillow for back sleepers, and a soft pillow for front sleepers, but do what feels best for you.
Incorporating even a handful of these tips into your routine is bound to improve your sleep. Simply take a breath, don’t stress about sleep, and do what works best for you. The better your sleep, the better your overall quality of life will be.
Have questions about any of these tips? Leave us a comment below.
Learn how sleep deprivation impacts success, health and happiness among college students.
Learn how much sleep is enough (or too much) and why you should care.