All most college kids care about is two things: their classes and a good social life. While some students prioritize one over the other, it’s safe to say many prioritize both over self-care—often sacrificing their sleep to go somewhere or get things done.
Whether you’re pulling an all-nighter to study for an exam or going out and partying until 4 a.m., chances are you’re leaving less time for sleep and rest—and that’s not a good thing.
With managing school, extracurricular activities, jobs, and your personal life, it’s no surprise you believe giving up your sleep could be the best solution. Not to mention, with the pandemic keeping school schedules in flux, sleep-disturbing anxiety is at an all-time high—and sleep quality is at an all-time low.
That’s a lot of stress for a young adult.
While it may seem impossible to get quality shuteye as a college student these days, there are ways to manage everyday stressors to find the best sleep routine that works for you and your hectic lifestyle.
Here, learn more about the unique sleep issues college students face and get six tips you can incorporate into your life for a better night’s sleep.
College students and sleep deprivation
Sleep deprivation is quite common among college students—in fact, it’s become a normalized part of the college experience.
According to a 2021 study conducted by Harvard University, 70% to 96% of college students get less than eight hours of sleep each weeknight.
Now that the pandemic has become another worry for college students, sleep deprivation and stress are only getting worse.
One study revealed that while remote learning initially alleviated college students’ stress and improved sleep, these effects later plateaued—and greater exposure to academic, financial, and interpersonal stressors predicted worse sleep quality on both daily and average levels.
While staying up late (or skipping sleep altogether) every now and then doesn’t seem like it would do much to your body, it can have short-term and long-term effects.
Short-term effects are those you typically endure after a night of staying up late. Throughout the day when running errands or sitting in class, you could experience irritability, forgetfulness, getting easily distracted, and having a slow reaction time, which can impair your driving, your school performance, and your mental health.
Long-term effects, on the other hand, go beyond day-to-day consequences. These effects can include:
- Depression and anxiety
- Heart attack
- Memory loss
- Immune system deficiency
- Substance use disorders
While these effects challenge different parts of your well-being, they do have one thing in common—and that’s worsening your quality of life.
Six tips for helping college students sleep better
Sleep deprivation shouldn’t be the norm in your college life. You can still get good grades and have fun with your friends—without sacrificing your sleep.
If you don’t know where to start or how to approach sleeping better, check out these six sleep tips that can help elevate your college experience.
1. Be careful with pulling all-nighters
All-nighters…we’ve all done them. Understandably, sometimes you need them to study for an exam, and other times you just lose track of time when you’re out. However, they should never become a normal practice.
Getting zero sleep is detrimental to your health as it prevents your body from rejuvenating itself. It also has a snowball effect, meaning your body will struggle to get into a healthy sleep routine and you’ll eventually become sleep-deprived.
If you’re in a position where an all-nighter seems like the only option, avoid sleeping throughout the next day—and limit an afternoon nap to 30 minutes if it’s absolutely necessary.
That way, it’s easier to fall asleep when you hit the sheets at night—and you can begin training your body to sleep at an appropriate time and for more than just a few hours.
2. Avoid alcohol before bedtime
If you like to party, then you might disagree with this tip due to your personal experiences saying otherwise. You drink with your friends, you feel buzzed, and you knock out easier—but that doesn’t mean your sleep is actually any better.
Quite the contrary: Alcohol decreases sleep quality during the night, which can cause the short-term effects we mentioned earlier. To avoid these negative impacts on your sleep and health, it’s best not to consume alcohol too close to bedtime.
3. Set your dorm room up for success
Where you sleep should feel like a sanctuary. While dorm rooms are fairly small and usually a space you have to share with someone else, you can still get quality sleep by making a few changes.
Here are a few examples of what you can do to make your dorm a sleep-friendly environment:
- Declutter! Your bed should only have bedding, just like your desk should only have books. Tidy up before sleeping so you don’t feel cramped—physically or mentally.
- Turn the lights down low. Your body responds to light, hence why you wake up when the sun rises. Turn off your lamps, your string lights, your TV (no binge-watching!), and make it a no-phone zone at least 30 minutes before bed. And if your roomie refuses to keep it dark, opt for a sleep mask!
- Make it a noise-free environment. Wear earplugs to bed or use a white noise machine to block out any disruptive and loud noises.
- Turn down the temperature. A cooler room encourages drowsiness and tiredness. Add some cozy blankets and you’ll be sleeping like a baby! (Check out our back-to-school gift guide for more dorm room product picks.)
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4. Communicate with your roommate
Roommates can be your best friends, people you just live with, or your worst nightmare. Regardless of the situation, the key to making your relationship as healthy as can be is communication.
If you’re able to choose your roommate, pick someone you know has the same sleep habits as you. For example, two night owls work better than one night owl and an early bird.
However, if you’re paired up with a stranger, talk to them about your sleep wants and needs in the beginning and ask them for theirs.
It’s important to remember some nights may not go as planned. Perhaps your roommate decides to have guests over late at night even though you told them you have early morning classes.
As long as your roommate communicates with you beforehand—and you communicate with them in the event you have to go against their wishes—you both should be able to come up with a sleep plan.
If you get to a point where you realize your roommate never attempts to respect your sleep desires, bring in a third party—such as a dorm resident advisor or a student counselor—to help compromise or resolve things to get you through the rest of the school year.
5. Incorporate relaxing activities into your nighttime routine
Trying to fall asleep can be stressful. I’m sure you’ve encountered nights where you know you need to sleep but all you do is toss and turn. The longer you’re up, the more stressed you get. This often occurs when you neglect winding down.
Sometimes your brain is too active to instantly fall asleep when the clock is telling you to. That’s where a relaxing bedtime routine comes into play.
Here’s a list of dos and don’ts to help you get your mind and body prepped for sleepy time:
- Do: Keep a sleep journal. Journaling declutters your mind of stress or worries that could prevent you from sleeping. Once you’ve let it out on paper, you should be able to sleep better and faster.
- Do: Take a warm bath or shower. A calm, warm rinse before bed will relax your body.
- Do: Drink tea. Caffeine-free tea can have soothing properties. Some classic sleepy brews include chamomile, valerian, passionflower, and lavender.
- Do: Read a book. Reading is a great stress reducer. It helps alleviate anxious thoughts and distracts you from any real-life troubles.
- Don’t: Eat before bed. I know you’re tempted to pick up some fast food when dorm meals just aren’t cutting it, but all that grease and fat can cause acid reflux, bloating, indigestion, and heartburn—all of which prevent you from sleeping comfortably.
- Don’t: Drink caffeine. Energy drinks and iced lattes that get you through evening classes are likely the reason you can’t drift off in bed immediately. And the more caffeine you consume, the more tolerance you’ll build that’ll only worsen your ability to fall asleep.
- Don’t: Exercise too late. Movement is key for boosting your mood, but it’s best to exercise earlier in the day. Doing an intense workout right before bed will elevate your body temperature and heart rate, and that can ultimately get you too pumped to go to sleep.
6. Ask for help
Sleep deprivation can worsen your mental health—and when you’re feeling mentally unwell, it can make it harder to sleep.
While making lifestyle changes is a great first step toward getting your sleep—and emotional well-being—back on track, don’t be afraid to seek help. Reach out to a friend, a family member, your school counselor, a professor, or the mental health services department at your college.
The bottom line: College is a life-changing experience with many curveballs and hardships—especially during the pandemic. Remember you don’t have to deal with everything that comes your way alone. Asking for support can do wonders—not just for your sleep but for your mental, physical, and emotional well-being too.
Are you a student struggling to get some quality (or any) sleep? Saatva is proud to offer a year-round discount for college students so you can get the rest you need to stay healthy and persevere through your college journey.