How to Finally Tackle the Problem of Sleep As a College Student

By Victoria Chen

We all know intuitively that getting 7–8 hours of quality sleep supports a better quality of life. Yet more than a third of college students (young adults) report getting six or fewer hours a night according to the CDC. Getting enough sleep has proven benefits promoting alertness, memory consolidation, and physical well-being. But if sleep is so coveted and important, then why are college students missing out on it?

According to the research, there is a multitude of reasons why college students struggle with achieving good sleep hygiene: frequent use of technology especially before bed; alcohol and stimulant use; variable class schedules; working a part-time job or internship; late-night socializing or late-night studying. Not getting enough sleep can negatively impact our physical health, academic-wellbeing, and mental health. We obviously don’t want that for anyone. In this article, we’ll go over several ways in which we can cultivate a better sleep routine.

Disclaimer

The habit-building techniques explained in this post may not work for everyone, especially for those who have or potentially have secondary sleep conditions (ex. insomnia, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, etc…) as well as those who use sleep-aids or any other medications for sleep. Additionally, the lack of sleep or an unstable sleep routine can be completely out of your control, due to the status of your mental health. In these cases, consulting a health professional, if you have the necessary resources and time available, is a viable course of action.

Determining Your Sleep Timeframe

The recommended amount of hours of sleep for young adults (18–25) still remains at 7–9 hours, but the exact amount, as well as specific bedtimes and waketimes, will vary from person to person. Nonetheless, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule with the same sleep and wake times, even on weekends, can help us fall asleep and wake up more easily. To determine our timeframe, we’ll need to conduct a sleep audit.

Here are a few examples on what you should consider (not comprehensive):

  • How many hours of sleep do you normally get per day? How many hours of sleep would you like to get per day?
  • What part of the day am I productive? Do I work better in the mornings, afternoons, or nights? Can I plan my day around these times?
  • Is my work/academics/priorities cutting into my sleep? What changes should I make to my everyday routine to get my target amount of sleep?

Another helpful tool for determining these times would be https://sleepyti.me/. The website can determine when you should sleep or wake up based on the number of sleep cycles, given if you already know one of the two.

Starting Small

After figuring out this timeframe, you might be tempted to force yourself into this routine, but your body might not be used to this new wake and/or sleep time. Consider easing into your new sleep schedule. For example, you may be used to sleeping at 1am every day, but your target goal is 10pm. Instead of going to sleep at 10pm, you can try falling asleep at 12am on the first night, 11pm on the next, easing yourself into your new routine by the third day. Likewise, if you’re planning to wake up at 7am instead of 11am, you can pull your alarm back one hour every day until the desired wake time.

Important Factors To Consider

  • Decreasing Blue Light Consumption

Exposure to light greatly dictates our sleep-wake cycle, and prolonged screen time a.k.a. blue light, from our devices, disrupts the production of the chemical melatonin. Therefore, decreasing blue light consumption can greatly improve the quality of sleep. Decreasing our usage before heading to bed can make all the difference.

Although this is the best course of action, the pandemic makes this exceedingly difficult; we find ourselves glued to our screens much more often for our responsibilities and everyday activities. In this case, using an orange light filter (such as f.lux, Night Shift on macOS) to decrease blue light can be helpful. Another suggestion is setting an automatic shutdown timer on your computer an hour or two before bedtime or charging your phone away from the reach of your bed.

  • Environment

Our sleeping environment is crucial to our quality of sleep. We tend to sleep better in cooler temperatures since increased heat exposure can increase wakefulness and disrupt sleep stages. The main two stages affected by temperature include REM (rapid-eye-movement sleep), which affects memory consolidation and mood, and deep sleep, which helps to restore and repair our bodies. As a result, experts recommend having a slightly cold environment and breathable fabrics in order to greatly improve sleep. The spaces we choose to inhibit also affect sleep. We cook meals in the kitchen, we study on our desks, and we sleep in our beds. Each space has a designated function therefore one way of conditioning our brains to sleep better is declaring our beds a designated space just for sleeping. If we do our homework in bed, we’re more likely to perceive our bed as a place for work instead of relaxation

Main Takeaway: Sleep and Mental Health

A consistent sleep schedule can support better mental health, this can be illustrated through a series of interconnected factors that compounds on one another. For instance, by maintaining a healthy sleep routine, the heightened alertness you derive will increase your focus, which leads to better performance in your everyday responsibilities. In turn, you will feel more in control of what you want to do and the outcomes produced, an overall increase in confidence. All of these effects can help you with building resilience; when faced with a challenge, you will not only feel capable of tackling the issue but also more likely to form logical and constructive decisions with your clear mind.

On the other end, an inconsistent sleep schedule does the exact opposite; the decreased alertness, focus, and performance can make you feel out of control and frustrated, straying yourself away from positive thoughts and decisions. Making the choice to orient your sleep schedule in a way that’s healthy is crucial to taking care of yourself mentally and emotionally.

With tiny changes in our daily routines and sleep hygiene, getting better sleep is possible! Transforming our sleep routines takes time so please give yourself the compassion to do so.

Citations:

https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3427038/

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41539-019-0055-

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4356633/

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Asian Alliance for Mental Health

We aim to de-stigmatize mental health through open dialogue and multimedia storytelling to bring visibility to mental health issues within Asian communities.