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5 Sleep tips every college student should know

Dr. Tracey Marks returns with Part II of her sleep advice for college students. Sometimes most vulnerable to an erratic lifestyle and sleep deprivation,  5 easy guidelines can keep even the loftiest student grounded and in bed on time.  

Last time we talked about how detrimental sleep deprivation is to the process of learning. College is a time of multiple responsibilities and that includes high volume learning. Here are five tips to help you get more sleep so you can optimize your learning and memory retention.


Manufacture your own dark, quiet environment

One thing about college is the fact that you can’t always control your sleeping environment. If you are in a dorm, you may have a noisy roommate who stays up later than you with all of the lights on. There may be light from the hallway and noise from your neighbors that can keep you awake. To get your best sleep, you need your room to be as dark and quiet as possible. Use eye covers, also called sleep masks like those found here. The ideal mask is one that blocks out all of the light and doesn’t allow light to sneak in under the edge of the mask.


As for creating a quiet environment, there is not much you can do to force everyone to be silent. The solution is to use a white noise machine to block the sound of the voices. What is white noise? White noise is a combination of all of the sound frequencies. Because it includes all the frequencies, it masks sounds of a single frequency. It is called white noise because the color white is a combination of all of the colors on the spectrum.


The sound is similar to a whooshing fan and can be helpful for blocking others voices, radios, sirens, etc. I use one in my office for privacy and to block to sound of others in the hallway. You can pick one up on Amazon here.


Fit exercise in your schedule as if it were a class

Physical activity that increases your heart rate for at least twenty to thirty minutes improves the quality of your sleep. What is good quality sleep? It is an adequate amount of deep sleep and dream sleep. If you sleep for 6 hours and you remain in the light stages of sleep for most of it, you will wake feeling tired as if you did not get enough sleep. Exercise has the effect of improving your sleep quality such that you can sleep less (you still need at least six hours) and feel more rested. The usual recommendation for exercise is thirty minutes a day for five days a week.


Limit alcohol especially close to bedtime

Alcohol has the effect of fragmenting your sleep and it degrades the quality of your sleep. It has the opposite effect of exercise.


Maintain a regular sleep schedule

We have an internal body clock that wants to stay on schedule.  If you vary your sleep time by too many hours, you can throw off your rhythm such that it becomes hard to fall asleep when you want.  This doesn't require you to fall asleep at the same exact time each night, but you should aim to keep the timing within an hour variance.  This includes the weekends.


Limit consumption of sugary foods especially at night

Foods high in carbohydrates and simple sugars burn fast and can cause insulin surges and blood sugar instability.  If your blood sugar drops too low at night, it stimulates the production of cortisol, glucagon and other body chemicals that stimulate the brain into wakefulness.  You can end up waking in the middle of the night hungry or craving a snack to fill the void. Your eating habits during the day affect what happens at night.  If you get into the habit of grazing all day on high-carb foods, your body will be conditioned to expect this even at night and it may not be able to make through an eight hour period without another snack.  Try limiting your food intake to three meals a day with few snacks in between.  If you must snack, try high protein snacks like nuts or whole grain foods.


College doesn't have to be a time of poor sleep and poor health.  With a few changes, you can sleep better which can help you maximize your potential and more easily manage all your responsibilities and activities.