The importance of getting enough sleep in college

originally published October 2014

I hate waking up. Sometimes, no matter how long I sleep, I feel like I could stay in bed forever. The snooze button is a close friend, and coffee is my survival beverage. With my schedule being even more full senior year, I find it harder than ever to get enough restful hours during the night.

My roommate gets up before seven in the morning, and I’m still amazed by how she does it. Even with my later classes, my body fights to stay beneath the covers. But it may be my own fault that I live like a nocturnal animal.

Truth be told, college students have some of the craziest sleeping patterns. Our time in college is often one of the busiest in our whole lives, and in order to keep up with classes, studying, homework, church, meetings, and having a social life, we sacrifice sleep.

And I know I’m not the only one guilty of staying up past midnight watching Netflix or scrolling through Pinterest because those few, precious hours are often the only chance we have to wind down and actually breathe.

But according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a good night’s sleep is vital to academic success. Research shows that “after two weeks of sleeping six hours or less a night, students feel as bad and perform as poorly as someone who has gone without sleep for 48 hours.” Sleep is also directly linked to memory and learning abilities. So while we may think that pulling an all-nighter to finish studying for a test will be worth it, it actually lowers your chance of remembering the material.

The AASM also found that “college students with medical-related majors are more likely to have poorer quality of sleep in comparison to those with a humanities major,” to which I’m sure pre-med and nursing majors can attest to.

College students who pull all-nighters are also shown to have lower GPAs. Contrary to the belief of many, you can’t simply “catch up” on sleep during the weekend because it messes with your body’s sleeping patterns and it doesn’t keep you from performing poorly during the week.

Adequate sleep and a routine sleep schedule also help to combat against depression, weight gain, mood swings, and more. I know we’ve all heard it before, but sleep really is important.

Here are some tips for adjusting your sleep cycle:

1) Going to bed early: Setting a bedtime and sticking to it helps your body get used to a routine. I understand that this isn’t always reasonable, especially for those who are rushing or have late work shifts, but it’s something to aim for.

2) Quitting the caffeine after 3 p.m.: I know, I know. But those afternoon trips to Cup’s may be doing you more harm than good. The caffeine in coffee and energy drinks often doesn’t hit until later than you want it to.

3) Having a “wind down” time that doesn’t involve a TV or laptop screen: Looks like we are just going to have to find a different time to finish that eighth episode of Grey’s Anatomy. And if you have to look at your phone before you go to sleep, turn down the brightness.

4) Don’t procrastinate: One of the main reasons we stay up so late is because we are trying to finish the assignments we should have done earlier. Make a daily to-do list and get those important things done first so you don’t have to do them in panic after 2 a.m.

5) Make a bear cave: Sometimes we can’t go to sleep even when we have the time because our bodies don’t think it’s nighttime. Buy black out curtains, make a fort around your bed, do anything you can to create the perfect sleeping nest that even your roommate who studies with the ceiling light on can’t disturb.

6) Say no to long naps: I know we all wish we could go back to kindergarten and enjoy all those naps we never took advantage of, but they often become much longer than we need (I can testify to that). Keeping nap time to no more than 20 min. is usually a good option if you simply can’t keep your eyes open during class.

7) Exercising: Doing some sort of physical activity during the day (even for just 30 min.) helps your body to go to sleep when you want it to. It also helps relieve stress that may keep you up at night.

While it may seem impossible to break all these bad habits, I think it should be our goal this year to at least strive for a healthy amount of sleep each night (8-10 hours). Following just one of these suggestions may help tremendously.

In order to be happy, healthy, productive students, we need to make sleep a priority. If our sleep is off, our minds and bodies are off too, and we become like cars running on empty. It will probably take me the rest of this semester to change my nocturnal habits, but I know all too well how not getting enough rest affects me.

So let’s pledge to go to bed early and avoid those all-nighters. Our health is worth it! Just try not to judge if you see me asleep in the library.

-Abbie Walker, Editor

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A freelance writer from the Deep South with a love of reading, writing, dramatic storytelling, indie music, and her corgi pup.

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