Understandably, there will be times in your college career that you have a hard time sleeping – sometimes, you might think pulling an all-nighter is the best way to get ahead with your studying. Other times, you might be consumed with anxiety over a difficult class. Or there could be other reasons you’re chronically having trouble getting quality sleep. Looking at those potential areas of trouble can help you to both improve your health and your concentration, and ultimately help you to do better in school.
As a college student in the digital age, you’re certainly getting a lot of screen time. Maybe you’ve got online homework, carry a smartphone, and you have easy access to other media on streaming services and social platforms. It’s easy to lie in bed at the end of the day and scroll through your phone, but this could be affecting you as you try to fall asleep. Research shows that screen time, especially right before bed, can make it hard for you to fall asleep. In fact, a study shows sleep can be interrupted in direct correlation with how much time you spend with your screen, meaning that 15 minutes of screen time might mean four minutes of less sleep, and so on.
Additionally, if you’re still in your teens or early twenties, your brain is still developing. Research shows your prefrontal cortex – the area in charge of higher reasoning – is still formulating up to age 25. Restorative sleep is vital in promoting a healthy brain, including cognitive function, hormone regulation, and metabolism. Lack of sleep can lead to obesity, depression, and other health issues. Turn off your screens – including your phones, iPads, laptops, desktop computer, and TV – two hours before you go to sleep to help your body understand that it’s time to shut down and get the restorative rest that you need.
College has its fun and joyful experiences and is a time to make new connections with your peers, and maybe even enjoy a social gathering or two. But there’s also a lot of stress – you may be living away from home for the first time, and there may be stress associated with living in close quarters with people you don’t really know well (and maybe aren’t compatible with). You may have been excited to start your college courses and have added on one too many classes. You may be changing your eating habits, exercise habits, and overall routine. All of it is a disruption, and it’s natural that you may face some disruption in your sleep as well.
A few tips can help you to manage the stress that can lead to sleep disruption. Take an honest look at your class schedule – you may be interested in that 300-level course in philosophy, but do you need to take it this semester? While your university experience is a time to explore different academic areas, work with your advisor to ensure you’re first getting the required courses in and not overloading yourself with classes, especially as you’re adjusting to college life. Make sure you have some healthy time just for you. Look into your college’s extracurricular offerings such as yoga and meditation classes for an extra way to relax– the time spent will pay off in better sleep and, therefore, a clearer mind.
It’s super easy to rely on pizza deliveries and junk food, especially when you’re stressed and short of time – but a poor diet, even for resilient young people, can actually increase your stress and therefore make it harder to sleep. While you may feel invincible in your twenties, a poor diet can have a long term impact on your health, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Think of it like starting a savings account – you may not have much in there to begin with, but it all adds up the older you get.
Take advantage of your college’s meal plan. Hit the salad bar and take advantage of the healthier offerings like vegetables, whole grain offerings, and fresh fruit. Or, if you’re on your own for meals and short of time, grab the pre-made salads and healthy meals from the grocery store. Additionally, stay away from the Red Bull and caffeine-boosters, to pull those all-nighters (which are terrible sleep interrupters anyway). And while you may have plenty of opportunities to socialize after hours, lay off the alcohol, which despite being a depressant, can actually cause you to lose quality sleep.
Remember, your college also may have free opportunities to see a counselor if your insomnia, stress, or alcohol use become problematic. Remember that you’ve made a major life change by starting your college career, and seeking additional help to adjust may be just the extra hand you need to sleep easier.