You know you need to sleep more. Better sleep. Everyone’s throwing out free advice on how to sleep more soundly. According to a the Sleep Foundation, during an average semester, 70–96% of college students get less than eight hours of sleep each day during the week. That means most college students are constantly functioning on a sleep deficit! Sometimes your lack of sleep can be due to more than just typical college stuff. It’s important to take a critical look at your sleep habits and figure out if you’re not sleeping because of your social life (e.g., studying or partying all night) or an actual sleep disorder. Determining this could potentially be life changing and may help your performance in school or enhance your overall health and mood.
Is it something you can fix on your own?
Oftentimes, sleep problems are due to things we're actively doing to hinder our sleep. Staring at phones and computers screens too late into the night, drinking too much coffee too late in the day, and many other things can affect our sleep without realizing it. These types of hinderances are habits you can change to get your sleep schedule back on track.
Messed up circadian rhythm
Do you often leave essays and large projects until the last minute so that you’re cramming or typing furiously into the morning, only to run to class the second you finish? Or do you finish your homework on time but like to hit the town any day of the week and only get two hours of sleep before your 8:00 am class? Both of these scenerios could be negatively affecting your sleep, even if you have a more regular sleep schedule the rest of the week. According to Sleep.org, by having drastically different times of going to sleep and waking up, you’re messing with your body’s circadian rhythm—its way of knowing when it should make you feel tired. When you don’t put yourself into that routine, you’ll start feeling tired in the middle of the day, and that can affect your grades if your focus is on staying awake instead of taking notes in class. Experts recommend setting a standard bedtime and wake-up time (even for weekends) so that you can have a healthy circadian rhythm and healthy sleep.
Try this: Even if you don’t have morning classes, try to wake up at an earlier time each morning. That way, even if you have to do some homework, you’ve built in extra time before class instead of having to stay up late to finish it.
It’s amazing that you can take naps in college when you don’t have afternoon classes (much to 7-year-old you’s chagrin). However, even if you’re taking naps to supplement your sleep, it could be detrimental as taking a nap that’s too long (more than 20–30 minutes) or too late in the day can negatively affect your sleep. It can cause you to be unable to feel tired at night, which leads to grogginess the next day. It can also mess with your circadian rhythm the same way that staying up late does. Short naps can be beneficial for alertness if you’re having sleep issues and need an energy boost. But, for the most part, you should try to steer clear.
Try this: If you’re having issues concentrating and you have a window between classes to nap, try taking a 10-minute power nap instead of a full hour. According to Sleep.org, that’s the opportune amount of time to leave you feeling more alert and awake, not mess with your sleep schedule, and avoid the grogginess and disorientation you feel with a longer nap.
Is it something you can’t fix on your own?
If you’re vigilant with your sleep schedule, making sure to block off eight hours a night for sleep, but you’re still exhausted, it might be time to talk to a doctor (or at least someone at your school’s health services office), as this might be a sign of a sleep disorder. That sounds scary, but many sleep disorders are easy to fix—it’s just a matter of knowing that they’re happening. If you think your overtiredness comes from something other than bad sleep habits, here are a few things you might want to consider doing:
Talk to your roommate
Ask them if you’ve been snoring loudly, if they’ve heard you stop breathing at all when you sleep, or if they’ve noticed you sleepwalking (signs of sleep apnea and other disorders). This is the benefit of living in such close quarters: if something’s wrong, your roommate will probably notice. They’ll also be glad you asked instead of them having to bring it up to you!
Talk to a counselor
Insomnia often goes hand-in-hand with depression and anxiety. Sleep that’s deterred by anxiousness can often worsen because the inability to sleep itself becomes a point of anxiety. If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, sleep too much, or wake up feeling anxious, see what resources your school has for your mental health. They may have group meetings or one-on-one counseling available for you to take advantage of.
Talk to your doctor
If you’re noticing issues with your sleep—like you get eight hours in but still fall asleep during everyday activities or wake up with headaches or pain—you should absolutely talk to your doctor instead of writing these symptoms off as “normal college student stuff.” It can be scary, but it’s easier to fix this stuff now than 30 years down the line.
Poor sleep affects not only your grades but your physical health as well. Sleep deprivation can have a negative effect on your immune system. This means your body is less able to fight off illness, which is never a good thing. So you definitely want to try to take care of your sleeping habits to keep your health up. A lack of sleep may seem like a non-issue—even normal—right now, but if you start to take care of it sooner, you’ll thank yourself for it later (like when your grades vastly improve)!
Looking for more advice on staying happy and health in college? Check out the blogs and articles under the tag "student health."