When I was in high school, I had a self-imposed bedtime and woke up at the same time every morning in order to go to my classes. As a result, I got eight hours of sleep every night and felt more energized and aware when I woke up in the mornings. My energy levels stayed high throughout the day and when it was time to go to bed at night, I fell asleep easily.
All that changed when I went to college. During my freshman year, I would stay up until 4:00 A.M. one night, wake up at noon, and then go to bed at 10:00 P.M. in order to wake up for my 8:00 A.M. class the next day. My sleep schedule was completely wacky, and as a result, my overall health suffered.
It turns out I was not alone. Many freshmen struggle with getting enough sleep as they transition into college. Also, when freshmen do sleep, they tend to think that they are getting a better quality of rest than they really are.
“Students report a lot of issues with sleep quality and disturbed sleep,” said Kathryn Orzech, a postdoctoral fellow in sleep research in Brown University. Some of the factors that can interrupt a restful night’s sleep include roommates who do not go to bed at the same time, noise from other people in the dorm, and academic stress. “[All of this is] disruptive to their sleep.”
Orzech partnered with David Salafsky, a director of health promotion and preventive services at the University of Arizona, and Lee Ann Hamilton to survey thousands of Arizona students about their sleep habits. The surveys revealed that the average students scored above a five on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, which means that they get poor sleep on a regular basis. On average, the students got less than seven hours of sleep each night, which then negatively affected their memory, concentration, class attendance, mood, and enthusiasm.
“Student sleep – or lack thereof – is a health issue that hasn’t received the attention it deserves, especially when you begin to consider how interconnected sleep is to other aspects of health,” said Salafsky. “Our findings suggest that this is a topic that students want to hear about and want to talk about.”
Surprisingly, it is very easy to improve the quality of sleep you get each night. According to the survey participants, simple acts like keeping a set bedtime and wake-up time, wearing ear plugs and a sleep mask to minimize disruptions, and avoiding caffeine and nicotine in the evenings really helped them sleep better.
- Turn off all electronics and avoid watching television for 30 minutes before bed. This helps your brain wind down for the night by reducing stimulation.
- Develop a routine that signifies sleep to you. For example, you could brush your teeth and then read a chapter from a favorite book every night before bed. This helps condition your body to associate these acts with impending sleep.
- Make sure you are prepared for the next day. If you haven’t finished your homework for your 8:00 A.M. class, you are likely to stay awake worrying about it. By being prepared, you will give your mind less things to stress out about, and therefore, you will make it easier for your mind to shut off at night.