As school starts up again, balance is key. Between juggling schoolwork, a social life, extracurriculars, and keeping up with one’s mental health, college students’ capacity for balance is constantly stretched. Out of all these commitments, mental health tends to take the back burner. One’s sleep, or lack thereof, is a critical success factor for promoting sustainable mental health.
It is challenging to find a sleep schedule that accommodates a busy student. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep for college students. Getting less sleep than what is recommended has negative impacts on students’ memory, learning, and focus.
Shannon Hokanson, Lecturer for the Department of Communication, said, “Getting adequate sleep makes a big difference in your learning. Cognitive function is better when brains are rested.”
There are several effective habits students can integrate into their routines to achieve better sleep, such as keeping a regular sleep schedule. Studies conducted by the National Sleep Foundation show that the timing of sleep is critical to feel properly rested every day. Waking up at the same time each morning and going to bed the same time each night is crucial if one is to have a quality night’s rest.
Everyone has an internal clock, or circadian rhythm, that helps the body stay on schedule so it can perform important functions and processes. The circadian rhythm is thrown off if the body is falling asleep at different times each night, which ultimately affects one’s mental and physical health.
Victoria Caal, a freshman communication student, said, “I believe that sleep schedule plays a huge role in getting better sleep. Some of the best sleep I get is when I’m on some type of schedule.” While many students might feel the need to “catch up” on sleep whenever they know they’ll have extra time in the morning, this can actually increase fatigue.
Another habit to adopt for better sleep is powering down electronics 30 minutes before going to bed. The blue light from cellphones and other electronics stimulates the brain and blocks melatonin, making it difficult to fall asleep. Not to mention, most people admit that once they start scrolling on social media, they have a hard time putting down the phone. One scroll leads to another, and the next thing you know, hours have gone by. Turning off electronics before bed helps the brain power down and get ready for sleep. Replacing electronic usage with other activities, like reading a physical book or listening to relaxing music, can make sleeping less of a challenging feat.
While a lot of college students rely on caffeine to get them through the day, the University of Michigan recommends eliminating caffeine eight hours before going to sleep. Caffeine quickly distributes itself throughout the body once consumed, lingering for hours even after its stimulating effects are no longer apparent.
Caffeine blocks sleep-promoting receptors, which can adversely affect sleep timing and sleep stages. Substituting caffeine for other energy boosting activities (e.g., midday naps) can help an individual establish better sleeping habits.
However, making sure to nap in moderation is also key. According to the National Sleep Foundation, one should keep naps short, specifically around 20 to 30 minutes. Short-lived naps can reduce fatigue, increase alertness, improve mood, and heighten memory. Conversely, longer naps have the opposite effect, often making students more tired than before they had first dozed off. Just like caffeine, taking naps too soon before bed is not recommended. The Mayo Clinic discourages people from taking naps after 3 p.m. because it can interfere with nighttime sleep.
Although sleep has a lasting effect on all students, it is especially important for student-athletes to consider. A Stanford study on men’s basketball players showed that their shooting improved by nine percent when they increased the number of hours they slept at night. Without the required amount of sleep, athletes can struggle with decreased accuracy, inhibited performance, and decreased reaction time— all of which increases the risk of incurring an injury.
Evidently, establishing good sleeping habits positively contributes to the mental well- being of college students. It’s important to recharge every night so that one can physically and mentally handle the hard work that goes into being successful at a university.
Although it may seem like the more responsible course of action is to prioritize schoolwork over sleep, missing out on that necessary rest can actually undo all of your efforts, impairing not only your academic performance but also your overall health.