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How to Optimize Your Sleep While Living in a Dorm

Dorm life isn't always conducive to rest. With academic stress and loud roommates, you may be in for a long semester. Improve your sleep with this advice!

Dorm rooms aren’t typically quiet retreats, and many students living behind those thin walls are living on their own for the first time. You’ll most likely have a roommate or two in college, and you’d be smart to get to know them and set up some room rules ahead of time—including sleep etiquette. With exams and new social situations on the horizon, it’s important to get the best sleep possible in your dorm room. Learn exactly why sleep is crucial in college and how you can transform your dorm room into an oasis optimized for a good night’s rest every night.

Why sleep is important for college performance

While it may be tempting to stay up all night cramming for a test, it’s more advantageous to get proper sleep for a good academic record. Sleep and academic success go hand-in-hand because:

  • REM sleep helps commit information to memory;
  • Less fatigue allows you to function and perform better; and
  • Quality sleep maintains your circadian rhythm, optimizing your body’s mental and physical processes throughout the day.

Essentially, your sleep quality can affect everything from how much you remember the next day to how your digestive system breaks down your breakfast in the morning. Your hormones are also affected by proper sleep, allowing for a more regulated emotional and mental state. College is stressful, so the better your habits, the more you can manage this stress.

Signs you may not be getting proper sleep

There are obvious indicators of inadequate sleep, such as falling asleep late, tossing and turning, and not feeling rested the next day. However, some are less obvious. You may think that if you’re getting to bed on time all is well, but the quality of your sleep has more factors than just the right number of hours. Other signs that indicate you need to improve your sleep include:

  • Getting sick more often
  • Having a dry mouth and sore throat from sleep apnea
  • Impairment of social skills
  • Increased acne breakouts
  • Increased cravings for junk food, caffeine, and sugar
  • Increased mood swings and anxiety
  • Memory issues
  • Academic struggles
  • Sore jaw from grinding or clenching your teeth

Physical and mental strain can cause sleep disruptions that you may not even notice at first. Look for the above signs and try asking your roommate if they notice any snoring, sleepwalking, talking, or teeth grinding while you sleep.

Related: Top Sleep Hygiene Advice for Tired Students

Navigating roommate relationships

From their daily routines to your interactions with them, your college roommates have an inevitable sway on how you wind down at night. Living with others usually takes some effort to make it work. Even if you’re lucky and your schedules line up exactly, it’s rare there won’t be some sort of conflict every now and then. To avoid restless nights, try the following strategies for a more peaceful dorm environment:

  • Make a roommate agreement about lights out, noise levels, guests, and cleaning
  • Respect each other’s privacy and belongings
  • Ensure you each have separate spaces with boundaries
  • Create a shared space for when you want to come together
  • Keep an open dialogue about every situation

Miscommunication is typically the cause of every hostile dorm environment. Get together once a week to discuss how things are going and what would make everyone’s lives easier, and try to be open and honest to prevent tension. It’s much easier to sleep soundly in a space where you all feel respected.

Getting rid of clutter

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of college classes and parties and put cleaning on the back burner. However, too much clutter can have a negative impact on you and your roommate’s wellness. It can affect your focus, raise your stress levels, hinder exercise routines, and put you in a bad mood. While maximalism can be stylish if done intentionally, books and dirty clothes on your bed may mess up your sleep schedule more than anything. When you aren’t able to be productive during the day, you may feel anxious and unresolved when lying your head down at night. Declutter your dorm room regularly by:

  • Sweeping or vacuuming for better air quality
  • Getting rid of excess stuff and trash
  • Keeping your desktop clear and organized

If you schedule a set time to do this each week, you can incorporate it into your routine and will be more likely to keep up with it. If your roommate is contributing to the clutter, harken back to that open dialogue to work it out.

Related: Operation Anti-Clutter: How to Clean Up Your Dorm Room

Creating a comforting atmosphere

Once you’re satisfied with the lack of clutter in your dorm, you may still not feel completely at ease. This is your space to decompress, enjoy your personal time, and, hopefully, sleep soundly. Make it as comfortable as possible by:

  • Adding greenery like succulents and other indoor plants
  • Decorating with posters or home decor
  • Getting comfy bedding that suits your tastes
  • Hanging up blackout curtains to help block out light

If it’s your first time living away from home, it’s important to feel safe and welcome in your dorm. The more personalized your space is, the more at ease you’ll feel falling asleep at night.

Using sleep tools

If you find you’re still having trouble falling and/or staying asleep, you can try out different tools designed specifically to help you snooze. Aside from minimizing screen time before bed, there are some other things you can incorporate into your nighttime routine, like:

  • Wearing a sleep mask
  • Using earplugs
  • Playing white noise (with the permission of your roommates)
  • Downloading apps that help you meditate or track sleep habits
  • Winding down before bed with music or a book
  • Taking melatonin sparingly or drinking soothing tea

What works will be unique to you, so try different combinations to see what helps. If your sleep problems persist, consider seeking professional help from a doctor or therapist.

Related: 8 Healthy Stress Management Tips for Students

Great sleep starts with healthy habits

Making your dorm room aesthetically pleasing and clean will certainly aid in your quest for the best sleep, but you must incorporate healthy habits to make sure the good sleep sticks. Take time between classes and your social life to practice self-care. Eat healthy, schedule in time to be active, and stay hydrated.

And amid the stress of college and dorm life, check in with yourself. If your physical and mental health are out of whack, your sleep will most likely be too. Reach out to your university, peers, friends, and family to access resources like therapy or support groups. Above all, take care of yourself and your sleeping environment to make the most of your nightly routine and show up your best on campus every day.

Browse all our content on student health for more advice on dealing with anxiety, taking care of yourself, developing good habits, and much more.  

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