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Sleep vs. FOMO: Every College Student’s Dilemma

Follow these research-backed tips for getting better sleep in college.

When I was in college, I spent a semester in Rome studying, traveling with friends, and trying to make the most of such an amazing opportunity. While I was able to spend a lot of quality time visiting different countries like Germany, France, Scotland, and Ireland, I wasn’t able to get a lot of quality sleep because I was too busy soaking up this opportunity. 

Because of my lack of sleep, I was often dozing off on train rides or in classes. Without the aid of my journal, I would have forgotten some details about my adventures. When I returned home after my semester, my summer was primarily spent catching up on all of the sleep I had lost. I had an amazing time in Rome, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I was definitely severely sleep-deprived.

If you are in college right now, you know how awful it feels to be sleep deprived. Feeling well-rested is somewhat of a unicorn when you’re in college. With endless choices of activities, late-night partying, pulling all-nighters for that paper you’ve been putting off, and noisy dorm life, it can be a challenge to get quality sleep as a college student, to say the least. 

While it may seem that getting enough sleep will just get in the way of experiencing all of the fun of college life or hold you back from getting that A on your exam, making quality sleep a priority can actually make a positive impact on your college experience. 

Here are just a few reasons why putting in the time and effort to get better sleep can be beneficial for you:

  • Energy levels: According to the Sleep Foundation, getting quality sleep can help you feel alert and energized during the day, rather than tired and drained.
  • Concentration: When you don’t get enough quality sleep, studies show it can be difficult to concentrate and your brain won’t be as adept at consolidating memories. Being able to concentrate and retain information is essential to college life.
  • Stress: The American Psychological Association reports that not only can stress make it difficult to get quality sleep, but also that making quality sleep a priority can help reduce the effects of stress. 
  • Mental health: Not getting enough sleep is correlated with feeling more stressed, sad, angry, and mentally drained. Research found that study participants’ symptoms improved when they were able to resume normal levels of sleep.

Okay, so we’ve established that getting quality sleep in college is important and can make your college experience even better — but how do you get quality sleep when life is so busy and there are so many distractions? Here are some research-backed tips for getting better sleep in college:

  • Get the right amount: Make sure you are getting the minimum of seven hours of sleep that is recommended by the CDC — or anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. This amount of sleep will help ensure that you are able to reap the benefits of getting enough quality rest through the night.
  • Establish a sleep routine: Remember when you were a little kid and you had a bedtime routine? You might have put your pajamas on, brushed your teeth, read a story (or three), and then was tucked into bed. This routine helped cue your body and brain to start winding down and prepare for sleep. Having a sleep routine as an adult is just as beneficial. Your routine could look like journaling or reading, using essential oils, or listening to calming music. This will be so much more effective than going a mile a minute during the day and then flopping into bed and hoping your brain will just magically shut off.
  • Create the ideal environment: Experts recommend avoiding screen time and lights before bed. It can certainly be tough to not watch TV or scroll through your phone before bed, but light from screens can actually confuse your brain and make it difficult to transition from being awake to being tired. Similarly, it can be helpful to use a white noise machine or app to help drown out sharp or loud noises in your dorm room as these can interrupt your sleep as well. Another helpful tip is to only use your bed for sleeping. While it can be tempting to study and do homework on your comfortable bed, it can be confusing to your brain.  
  • Avoid stimulants: Consuming alcohol and caffeine too close to bedtime can actually impede your ability to fall asleep. While alcohol can initially help you fall asleep, studies show it can stimulate your brain as your body starts to metabolize it, which can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night or not get quality sleep. And caffeine is a stimulant, so it is best to avoid it several hours before bed as well as any energy drinks you might be used to taking for late night study sessions.

Even though there are a gazillion things to do in college, you might find that you’re able to engage some of them more fully by making simple changes like these that can improve your overall mental and physical health. 

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