All-nighters are not uncommon for college students. The demands of your course load, work schedule and social life often leave little time left in the day for the other aspects of your life–including a good night’s rest. While you may clock valuable hours studying or working after the sun goes down, it could actually do your mind and body more harm than good. A lack of sleep can not only make it harder to function the next day, but it can also spell trouble for your responsibilities and your health if you’re regularly sleep-deprived.
The majority of college students don’t get enough sleep, so if you spend a great deal of time in a state of fatigue, you’re not alone. Sleep, however, shouldn’t be a negotiable aspect of health. Adequate sleep is crucial for your success in college. Read on to explore how sleep can help you succeed–and how to log more hours each night.
Why Is Sleep so Important for College Students?
Many groggy college students have, in an act of both curiosity and distress, interrupted their studies to type “how much sleep do I need” in a new browser tab while they burn the midnight oil and try to digest a challenging lecture many hours past their bedtime. However, when your mind and body are tired, it’s hard to pay close attention to a lecture, let alone retain the information well enough to ace an exam and maintain the knowledge beyond the day of the test.
As a college student, your body requires between seven to nine hours of sleep each night in order to function and function well. Without these restful hours, your systems struggle to keep up with the demands of your day-to-day life. Your body needs sleep to adequately rest, repair and recover. Sleep functions much like the recharge of a battery. It rejuvenates your memory, your immune system, your cognition, your body’s response to stress, your muscle recovery and your organ function.
Sleep can help to improve your memory, which is bound to serve you well for your next midterm. Additionally, a good night’s rest helps your brain to better facilitate decision-making processes and emotional control, both assets to the various spheres of your life. When you’re healthy and clear-headed, everything from a tough research paper to an upcoming, highly-anticipated date is easier to manage.
What Happens When You’re Sleep Deprived?
Sleep is important for nearly all of your body’s functions, so the consequences of a restless or incomplete stretch of sleep can affect nearly every bodily process. In smaller amounts, sleep deprivation is likely to make the tasks and responsibilities you take on during the day a bit more challenging. In this state, you may find it difficult to maintain your focus and energy, or you may be slightly irritable.
When sleep is elusive for several nights in a row, it can begin to take a more noticeable toll on your body and mind. You may struggle to remember things, find it hard to switch from one task to another, make poor decisions or even become overexcited or hyperactive. Your body senses fatigue, which triggers a mild panic and can send your nervous system into a state of mild dysregulation. A dysregulated nervous system can stimulate the release of stress hormones, which further challenge your concentration and regulation.
In times of excessive sleep deprivation, things can quickly go south. Heavily sleep-deprived individuals may begin to fall asleep at inappropriate times, such as in class, at work or behind the wheel of a car. Extremely tired students may also have significant mood swings and, when your body is in severe sleep debt, some hallucinations.
Are Your Daytime Habits Interfering with Your Sleep Quality?
Though you may sometimes choose to stay up late to join a friend in their dorm room to watch a movie or finish up a procrastinated assignment in the commons area after everyone else has gone to bed, a lack of sleep is not always intentional. There are a number of reasons why sleep is so elusive to some people. Sometimes, there is no singular reason for insomnia. Rather, it’s a combination of several factors.
Caffeine and other stimulants are popular among college students. However, stimulant use has its own negative health effects, and the consumption of substances designed to help to keep you awake does not actually remedy a lack of sleep. In fact, too many substances can trick your body into thinking you’re well-rested, which may result in a dip in sleep quality or an accumulation of sleepless nights that could catch up to you and your health in significant ways.
Every college student faces a dilemma when it comes to a regular bedtime: you have an early class on Mondays that forces you to hit the hay earlier on Sunday nights, but it’s important for your social life that you attend your friends’ get-togethers that happen late every Friday. This inconsistency makes it hard for your body to utilize its natural circadian rhythm to fall asleep easily and wake up refreshed, as your body benefits from a reliable routine at around the same time each night.
Eating too close to bedtime, or snacking late on foods that may cause blood sugar spikes that could wake you up during the night, can interrupt your sleep quality or make it harder to fall asleep. As well, some foods or beverages take a long time to digest, raise your core body temperature or contain amino acids that make you feel more alert when it’s time to wind down for the night.
How Can You Get Better Sleep?
Some nights it may just not be in the cards to get nine hours of sleep–and that’s okay. To maximize the amount of time you spend in dreamland, and to make it easier to journey there in the first place, these tips should help.
- Avoid eating or drinking too close to bedtime.
- Exercise during the day, and never just before bed.
- Avoid too much blue light exposure when it’s time to unwind, as this interferes with your circadian rhythm.
- Choose soothing activities as part of your bedtime routine, such as a good book, soft music, a warm bath or shower, bedtime tea or light yoga or stretches.
- Keep as consistent a schedule as possible, and never deviate from it more than one to two hours on rare occasions.
- Plan ahead to study, work, socialize and sleep so you have plenty of time to balance all of your responsibilities.
- Utilize natural supplements, such as l-theanine or melatonin, when it becomes difficult to fall asleep.
- Avoid alcohol, as it disrupts your sleep cycle and results in poor sleep quality.