Sleep is essential for refreshing your mind and aiding in learning, as well as for your general wellness and day-to-day function. Unfortunately, many students have trouble getting enough quality sleep. This post will offer practical tips to help you catch those ZZZs.
1. GET ENOUGH
The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following numbers of hours of sleep each night:
- Ages 6-13: 9-11 hours
- Ages 14-17: 8-10 hours
- Ages 18-64: 7-9 hours
Every individual’s sleep needs will vary, but aiming for these general recommendations is the best way to start off. If you find yourself consistently sluggish, drowsy, or cranky throughout the day, you may need to increase the number of hours you sleep.
2. KEEP A CONSISTENT SCHEDULE
Sleeping/waking at around the same times every day regulates your body’s internal clock, helps you fall asleep more quickly, and improves sleep quality. So as tempting as it is, sleeping in until noon on Saturday mornings will likely only make you feel more fatigued and “jet-lagged”. Try to keep your weekend sleep schedule within an hour or two of your normal one.
During the night, you undergo several phases of sleep, ranging from light to deep sleep. If you’re woken up during a deep sleep phase, you’re more likely to feel groggy, and your attention, memory, and decision-making skills will be deficient for several hours. To ensure you’re not interrupted during deep sleep, use a bedtime calculator to find what time you should go to bed if you have to wake up at a certain time, or vice versa. Alternatively, use an app that will track your movements during the night and wake you up during your lightest phase of sleep.
It’s normal to feel sleepy in the afternoon, but taking long naps during the day can prevent you from falling asleep later at night. Limit your napping to a 15-20 minute catnap anywhere from 1-3 pm.
3. AVOID CAFFEINE
Stop drinking coffee, caffeinated tea, energy drinks, and soda 6 hours before bedtime. Use these natural energy boosters instead:
- take a nap (my personal favorite; see above section)
- drink a glass of cold water
- listen to upbeat music + have a quick solo dance party!!
- go for a walk
- or even just stand outside and bask in the sun
- eat a healthy, low-sugar snack
4. AVOID DIGITAL SCREENS
The blue light from the screens of your devices suppresses the release of melatonin, a sleep hormone, essentially tricking your body into thinking it’s daytime. Try to put away your phone/tablet/laptop/television 1-2 hours before bedtime. E-readers that don’t have a backlight, such as the original Kindles, are fine to use, but those that have lighted displays, such as the Kindle Fire, are not.
This often poses a problem for students, who usually work in the evenings and often have to use their devices to type essays and conduct research online. I’m not great at following this rule either (yours truly is typing up this blog post at 9 pm), but my tip is to finish the assignments that require a laptop earlier in the afternoon/evening, then devoting the later hours to math problems, worksheets, note-taking, and other paper-based tasks. If you must use your device close to bedtime, turn on the Night Shift feature on your iOS device and download f.lux for your other devices— these will limit the amount of blue light your screens emit after a certain time of day.
Exercising during the day can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply. During a scientific study, the National Sleep Foundation reported that 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week improved sleep quality by 65%. Even a quick 10-minute walk can benefit your sleep. However, it may take several weeks of an exercise regime before you begin to see improvement, so stick to it and don’t get discouraged!
6. IMPROVE YOUR ENVIRONMENT
Design a bedroom that’s conducive to quality sleep with the following steps:
- Keep outside noise down with earplugs, a fan, ambient sound, or a white noise machine.
- Keep the room as dark as possible (unless you like a nightlight) with curtains or a sleep mask.
- Make sure the room is the right temperature for you. Most people sleep better in a slightly chillier room, around 65 degrees Fahrenheit or 18 degrees Celcius. If it’s stuffy, open a window to improve ventilation.
- Get a mattress and pillow that are supportive and comfortable. Make sure your blankets aren’t too thick or thin. Wash and change your sheets regularly so they’re clean and soft.
- An essential oil diffuser, humidifier, and stuffed animals are nice accessories to make you more comfy! :)
7. RESERVE YOUR BED
For most of my life, I kept my desk and my bed together in my room. Each night, I would finish my homework, walk literally three steps to the right, and collapse into my bed. I often had trouble falling asleep, because my mind would still be churning from all the work I’d just completed and the piles of unfinished assignments sitting just a couple feet away. I began to associate my bedroom with stress and schoolwork, a mindset I couldn’t switch off just by turning the lights out. But when I moved my desk from my bedroom into a separate room, my sleep immediately improved. I fell asleep faster, slept more soundly, and started associating my bedroom with peace and relaxation instead— all because I put a little bit of distance between my bed and the rest of my life.
Moving furniture into separate rooms isn’t always feasible for everyone, but you can take measures to help your brain associate your bed with sleeping. While in/on your bed, don’t study, check email, scroll through Instagram, or do anything else that will stress you out or keep you awake. Reserve your bed for sleeping only, and your brain will automatically go into a “sleep context” when you get into it every night.
8. PREPARE FOR THE NEXT DAY
Oftentimes, people have trouble falling asleep because they’re worried about the next day. Maybe you’re already dreading waking up in the morning or anxious about tomorrow’s test or your head is spinning thinking about all the things you need to do, want to do, ought to do. The best way to prevent worry and sleeplessness is to spend some time each night preparing for the next day, which could include:
- packing your bag with everything you’ll need tomorrow
- setting out tomorrow’s outfit in advance
- doing a huge brain dump of everything you want to do or remember, so it’s out of your head and onto paper
- updating your planner; cross off completed tasks and add new ones
- visualizing yourself succeeding at everything you have to do tomorrow, so you feel confident and ready
- telling yourself, “I’ve prepared as much as I could. It’s out of my control now. Whatever happens, happens.”
Relax, de-stress, and get yourself ready for bedtime with the following activities:
- breathing exercises
- taking a shower/bath
- reading a book
- listening to soft music or an audiobook
10. MAKE IT A PRIORITY
I can’t emphasize this one enough. So many people treat sleep as an optional activity, or even a luxury. It’s often the first thing to be sacrificed when life gets hectic. But sleep is extremely important to all aspects of your wellbeing, and you must prioritize your health. When you don’t get enough sleep, you have less energy, less focus, and less capability to learn. This can lead to a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation and poor performance, which have irreversible long-term effects.
So make your bedtime sacred. Take it as seriously as you would any other task in your planner. I have a rule: if it’s not done by 11 pm, too bad. I have to go to bed. Getting enough sleep gives me the energy to keep up with the next day’s classes and catch up on any work I didn’t finish the night before, if necessary. Make a conscious decision to respect your sleep schedule each and every day, and your body and mind will thank you.