Dorm Sleeping 101: How to Sleep in a Dorm Room

Trying to sleep well in a dorm room can feel like a nightmare. With these pro tips, you can turn your dorm into a dream space for sleep.

By Ashley Little

Apr 27th, 2022

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When high school graduates are finally granted the freedom to move out of their parent’s home and live on their own at college, the idea of living in a dorm room sounds like the perfect escape. But pretty quickly students learn that a dorm isn’t always exactly the paradisal landscape of their dreams.

As if starting college isn’t stressful enough, living in a dorm room for the first time comes with its own set of challenges. Students may be challenged when living in a new space by feeling homesick, experiencing a sense of claustrophobia from a smaller space, or having trouble sharing a room with a peer.

When a dorm room doesn’t feel like home, it’s nearly impossible to get a good night’s sleep, and no new college students wants to put themselves at risk of experiencing sleep deprivation. Without consistent, quality sleep, a student will suffer mentally, physically, and academically.

Living in a dorm room shouldn’t be something to lose sleep over. With a few simple adjustments, a dorm room can feel like home and become a conducive environment for a good night’s sleep.

Why Students Have Trouble Sleeping in a Dorm

The issues preventing students from sleeping soundly in a dorm go beyond the four walls. As a new student adjusts to college life, they will undoubtedly experience more stress from the rigor of higher education coursework and the difficulties of managing their own time, and increased stress is one of the biggest causes for sleep deprivation. Who can manage a good night’s sleep when they can’t clear their mind at night?

But inside the four walls of a college dorm, there are plenty of other obstacles in the way of catching some shut eye. Living in close quarters with many college students inevitably leads to late-night noise and light disruptions from all the action. There is also an element of sterility that comes in a dorm room with its white walls, tile flooring, and bland furniture that is sometimes provided. Frankly, it just doesn’t feel like home.

All of this to say that student’s sleep patterns can be interrupted by a multitude of reasons that aren’t necessarily always caused by living in a dorm but are often exacerbated in a new and less comfortable space. Although it may feel like an added cause of stress, living in a dorm can be a great way to build connections on campus and help students acclimate to their new college environment.

To make the most of dorm life, there are simple changes that can be made. By optimizing the room, keeping up with healthy lifestyle habits, and improving sleep hygiene, students can avoid losing sleep over unnecessary stressors.

Optimizing Your College Dorm

The dorm you’re given will likely be the bare bones of a bedroom and need some changes. There are crazy hacks all over the internet to help you fully deck out your dorm room and transform its environment, but it only takes a few simple adjustments to make a dorm feel more like home and be a more appropriate sleep environment.

Tackle Light Pollution and Noise Disruptions

While you can’t control everything that goes on outside of your dorm room, you can take measures to prevent it from disrupting your sleep inside the room. Light pollution is the easy fix. You can simply take black out curtains and hang them over your windows so at night you won’t have any bright lights from cars or lamp posts invading your bedroom.

The noise can be handled in many different ways. One option is to use noise-reducing earplugs, but you may find those uncomfortable. A white noise machine can be a great tool to mask any loud disruptive noises that may wake you up in the night. Other sound machines that produce calming sounds from nature can also help relax you and keep you asleep, especially for those who move from the country into the city and like the reminder of home.

Make the Bed More Comfortable

The mattress you are provided in a college dorm, if you’re provided one at all, will likely be low-quality and uncomfortable. A good quality mattress is the foundation of a great night’s sleep, so investing in one that will last you beyond the college years will definitely be worth the cost. A cheaper and easier option may be purchasing a mattress topper. Adding a few inches of memory foam to the top can help mask the stiffness of the bed.

Along with being uncomfortable, most dorm room beds are also lofted, which is unusual for incoming freshmen who likely did not sleep in a lofted bed in their parent’s home. While it may be frightening, it is often necessary to provide more floor space in an already small room. If having a lofted bed makes you nervous and keeps you up at night with fears of falling out, consider adding a bed rail that prevents you from falling.

Spruce it Up with Greenery

Adding plants in your room will help liven the place up (literally) and make it feel more like a home. But plants are also beneficial for improving your sleep quality. Plants naturally improve indoor air quality and help clear pollutants. With cleaner air, you’ll be able to breathe and sleep more easily.

Try Feng Shui

The ancient Chinese practice of feng shui may not seem like a reliable fix for everyone, but it’s worth a shot to see if it makes you more comfortable and helps you sleep. Try out these tips from feng shui to improve the energy flow in your dorm:

  • Move your bed. Your bed should be in a place where you can see the door in front of you when you’re lying down and it should not be directly in line with the door. This position helps you feel safe because you can see anyone or anything that enters your room.
  • Leave room on the sides. It’s important to leave space to both sides of the bed. This creates a balanced energy on both sides and makes practical sense for getting in and out of bed.
  • Choose your bedding carefully. Choose fabrics that appeal to your for your sheets, blankets, and pillow cases. The higher the thread count, the softer the sheets, which will appeal to most sleepers.

Adjust the Temperature

You may have trouble sleeping if your room is too hot or too cold. The optimal temperature for a good night’s sleep is between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t have control over a thermostat to turn down the temperature, use fans to circulate air. The white noise from the fans will also help you sleep soundly.

Fill in the White Space

Different colors have different effects on us psychologically. A stark white room is generally not relaxing for most, so fill in the space with some color in decor, wallpaper, or wall art. Be careful to avoid mixing too many patterns or using bright colors as these can be stimulating. Sticking to neutral shades with pops of soft color will make your space feel inviting and relaxing.

Maintaining Healthy Lifestyle Habits

The habits you practice during the day have a large impact on your sleep quality. As you transition to college, your lifestyle habits will likely change, but it’s important you stay on top of making sure you keep up healthy habits.

Stay Active

Many students’ activity level declines once they arrive at college and stop participating in the sports they grew up practicing. Those who are less active typically have more trouble sleeping at night due to excess, pent-up energy. Exercise is also beneficial for reducing stress and anxiety which would inhibit sleep. Staying active by exercising at least 30 minutes a day is recommended. With some large college campuses, the walks between classes may cover this!

Assess Your Diet

There are several foods that can keep you up at night including caffeine, sugars, and spicy foods. If you are consuming these foods in excess, especially in the late hours before bedtime, you will likely have difficulties sleeping well.

Maintain a healthy, well-rounded diet full of vegetables, fruits, and proteins to be sure your body is receiving the nutrients it needs. For a better chance at sleeping well, source melatonin and magnesium from the foods you eat. Tart cherry juice is a great source for melatonin, and magnesium can be sourced from foods like:

  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Dark chocolate
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Green leafy vegetables (particularly spinach)

Avoid Naps

There are benefits to be reaped from power napping, but generally, taking too many naps can be harmful to your sleep health. Napping excessively can make it difficult to fall asleep at night, and eventually your sleep schedule will be completely thrown off track.

The flexibility of a college student’s schedule allows time for mid-day breaks and catnaps. This can be tempting, but naps should be avoided in the late afternoon and evening so sleeping at night isn’t a challenge. If you are napping, stick to a quick 20-minute nap.

Be Conscious of Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol may make you feel drowsy and help you fall asleep faster, but it is more harmful to your sleep than helpful. Although the act of falling asleep is easier, staying asleep and experiencing quality, deep sleep is more challenging when you consume alcohol. A night cap isn’t all it’s made out to be. To wake up refreshed and experience quality sleep at night, avoid overconsumption of alcohol.

Be Smart About Studying Strategies

Pulling all-nighters several times a week is not a sustainable study strategy. Instead, learn time-management skills and work studying times into your day. Staying up all night trying to cram information will never be a successful technique. Your brain needs sleep to process and retain the information you learn, so you’ll be better off if you schedule study time into your day and close the books to get some rest at night.

Improving Your Sleep Hygiene

Your sleep hygiene is evaluated by your lifestyle habits, your sleeping patterns, and how seriously you’re dedicating yourself to improving your sleep. These sleep tips will help you get an A+ on your sleep hygiene score.

Avoid Bed Until Bedtime

In a dorm room you may be more limited with your space and use your bed as a hangout spot for snacking, watching television, studying, or relaxing. You should reserve your bed solely for sleep time so your body learns that once you are in bed, it’s time to go to sleep. Invest in a futon to place under your lofted bed to give you an alternative place to spend your free time so your bed can be reserved for sleeping.

Stay on a Schedule

Keeping a consistent schedule is how your body learns to adapt. In college, your classes may be scheduled differently on a Monday and Wednesday than they are on a Tuesday and Thursday, but you should set a consistent schedule of going to sleep and waking up at the same time no matter what day it is, even on the weekends. This helps your body adjust and makes falling asleep and waking up easier.

Lean on Your Circadian Rhythm

Our body clock and sleep/wake cycles, known as our circadian rhythm, are largely dependent on light sources. When we are exposed to light, our bodies are told it’s time to be awake. When we are in the dark, our bodies are signaled to produce melatonin and prepare for sleep. Take advantage of this knowledge and manipulate your light sources as necessary. If you need black out curtains to stay asleep during the night, you may want to compensate for the lack of morning sunlight with a wake-up light that will mimic the natural rising of the sun in your room and help you wake up.

Turn Away from Social Media

Unless you’re using a sleep app, it’s best to avoid using technologies including your television, computer, or phone late at night. Resist the social media scrolling urge and try reading a book or doing another relaxing activity that doesn’t require technology as the blue light will stimulate your body and make it more difficult to fall asleep.

Try a Wind Down Routine or Other Natural Remedies

A wind down routine is simply the activities you practice before bed to relax your mind and body. If you practice it consistently, your body starts to learn that it’s signaling sleep time. A wind down routine may include taking a warm bath, reading a book, putting together a puzzle, or other calming activities.

Incorporate other natural remedies into your nightly routine to help you wind down. These may include:

  • Using essential oils such as lavender, cedarwood, and chamomile
  • Drinking a cup of warm tea
  • Practicing yoga stretches
  • Meditating
  • Listening to calming music

Remember that getting good sleep each night consists of incorporating all of these tips. The perfect equation for a good night’s sleep includes optimizing your room, keeping up healthy habits, and practicing healthy sleep hygiene. With all of these tips combined, sleeping well in your dorm room will be a breeze.