Have you recently found yourself yawning during class? It’s no surprise that students, whether in college or high school, are challenged with balancing very busy schedules. From completing coursework, attending extracurricular activities, and striving to keep a healthy social life, there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to fit it all in.
With such pressing schedules, it’s common for students to find themselves struggling to get a consistent amount of sleep.
There are several factors that can hinder the amount of rest students achieve. In this guide, I explain a few obstacles that may be affecting students’ sleep schedules; I also go into healthy ways to get back on track to more well-rested nights.
Stress is something that many students will find themselves facing at some point. In fact, according to a study done by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 80% of U.S. students report feeling stressed on occasion or often.
Academic pressure from parents and oneself, the process of applying and choosing a college, and maintaining a balanced life can all contribute to an overwhelming sense of stress in addition to other personal circumstances.
Not only does stress cause a variety of physical symptoms, like higher blood pressure, tightened muscles, a weakened immune system, or headaches, it can also be a leading cause of insomnia.
Why is this?
Stress can play a part in the length and quality of a good night’s sleep, as well as making it more difficult to fall asleep initially. Stress causes hormones, such as cortisol or adrenaline, to release and can leave students feeling overly alert.
Ironically, lack of sleep caused by stress can also lead to more stress from not getting enough sleep. It’s important for students to find healthy outlets to deal with their many stressors and explore ways that help them relax.
Creating a peaceful sleeping environment, practicing meditation, or speaking to friends, family members, or professionals about stress can help prevent burnout, reduce chronic insomnia, and help students to fall asleep easier once their heads hit the pillow.
Poor diet & lack of exercise
Diet and exercise also play a key role in the quality of a student’s sleep. Take, for example, a college student eating away from home and in the dining hall for the first time. Regulating meals between a changing class schedule and getting enough nutrients is a challenge that can hurt many students, as they find it hard to make these healthy decisions on their own for the first time.
Having a balanced diet and appropriate amounts of exercise is crucial to the quality of sleep a student can achieve per night.
Why is this?
Certain foods can sabotage sleep, so avoiding excessive caffeine intake later in the day and limiting spicy or acidic foods that cause heartburn and weaken sleep efforts can help students maintain a healthy sleep schedule and diet. You might want to think twice before grabbing that second cup of coffee!
Similarly, some studies suggest that high fiber and low sugar consumption can lead to more restorative sleep.
Many campuses and schools will offer balanced nutrition options to students, so encouraging a student to make more nourishing choices can lead to a better quality of sleep. This also means staying mindful of what times of day you eat, as larger meals just before bed can negatively impact sleep.
Just as students may struggle to regulate their diets, finding time to exercise is another common struggle. While adequate exercise contributes to an overall healthier lifestyle and limits the chances of certain health concerns, working out can also help people fall asleep more easily at night.
Regular exercise leaves the body ready to fall asleep faster at night and therefore reduces the amount of time spent lying awake in bed. Similarly, exercise can help to ease muscle tension and lead to a deeper quality of sleep.
For high school and college students alike, looking into the gym or extracurricular physical activity options that are available at school can motivate them to set aside time to sweat. If your schools’ facilities are closed as a result of COVID, consider getting a virtual gym membership that allows you to take fitness classes at home. Taking a break from studying to move the body can also help to refocus the mind while completing schoolwork and release stress and anxiety.
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Overuse of digital devices
In a post-COVID world, all levels of education are relying on online resources, instruction, and coursework through digital platforms. Students are more dependent than ever on using technology to complete their work.
While virtual instruction offers many advantages, the constant interaction with blue light can pose a threat to student’s sleep schedules.
Why is this?
The blue light emitted from screens, such as those found on computers, laptops, tablets, and phones, that are often used for remote learning, can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is responsible for acting as a natural alarm clock and signals the brain when it is time to fall asleep.
With students clocking in massive amounts of screentime, particularly right before bed with late-night studying, it’s important for them to use a few tools to shield themselves from the disruptive effects of blue light.
One way to combat the fatigue from these screens is by wearing blue light glasses while using digital devices, most importantly before bed. This is an easy incorporation that actively filters out blue light, which can inhibit the production of melatonin and cause you to feel awake far into the night, ultimately protecting the circadian rhythm and allowing you to get a better night’s sleep.
Not only will students find it easier to fall asleep at night, but they also combat the other negative effects of blue light on the eyes—like headaches and dry eyes, making their virtual learning experience a bit more comfortable. These types of glasses are especially effective considering there are limited social gatherings so many students are spending more personal time on digital devices.
Additionally, students can print their coursework on paper when available, set their digital screen displays to warmer tones, and take breaks away from the screen every 30 minutes to limit technology use and give the eyes a much-needed rest.
Everyone loves a good snooze in between classes or once you’ve finished a big round of studying. But did you know that certain napping habits can contribute to a poorer quality of sleep at night?
Why is this?
Although sleeping can help fight mid-day drowsiness, it can alternatively make it harder for students to fall asleep at night, as longer naps tend to decrease sleep drive. Studies suggest that anywhere between 10-20 minutes of sleep is the length of an ideal nap—90 minutes if you are looking for a longer slumber.
If you are a student who values naps but doesn’t want them to affect nightly sleep, be sure to set an alarm before laying your head down for a quick nap. Similarly, planning your day ahead of time with scheduled naps will keep you accountable for only sleeping the allotted amount of time and less likely to hit the snooze button.
Remember that all naps aren’t bad for you. In fact, naps are known to reduce irritability, help individuals stay more alert, and re-energize the body when taken for the appropriate amount of time.
Additional sleeping hacks for students:
- Invest in a quality pair of earplugs and an eye mask. If you are sharing a dorm space, these can help combat differing schedules with a roommate and create a relaxing space to promote sleep despite loud noises, light, and other distractions.
- Opt for decaffeinated coffee or tea if you are a frequent coffee drinker. You can still enjoy the taste without the unnecessary excess of caffeine that can make it difficult to fall asleep.
- Spend time out in natural sunlight. In between classes or after school spend some time soaking up the sun as this can help balance your body’s circadian rhythm.
- Avoid procrastination—planning out due dates of major projects and assignments can help alleviate academic-related stress and will help your mind wind down better at night without worry if there is enough time to complete your next day’s tasks.
Conclusion: How to Get More Sleep
Sleep is a critical aspect of how well students function on a daily basis. Given the many challenges and duties that follow students, it’s important for them to be aware of what may be actively holding them back from getting quality sleep and plan ahead to make sure their bedtime schedule is prioritized.