Smart Sleep Habits

Burning the candle at both ends? Don't skimp on a good night's sleep.

College life is hectic. Staying on top of your coursework, immersing yourself in campus social life and finding the time to eat right, exercise and stay connected with family and friends back home can be overwhelming at times. And your sleep cycle is usually the first thing to suffer.

Not getting enough sleep is an age-old problem on college campuses. Pulling the infamous "all-nighter" and showing up bleary-eyed for classes have become somewhat of a rite of passage. But getting plenty of shut-eye is an important part of your overall wellness. Sleep deprivation can:

  • hurt academic and athletic performance
  • interfere with your memory and ability to reason and concentrate (Did you know falling asleep at the wheel results in thousands of deaths each year?)
  • make you more susceptible to injury
  • increase stress levels
  • reduce your body's ability to fight infection or heal

In addition, some research shows that inadequate sleep--or too much--may make you more prone to obesity, according to a recent study. Although the reasons for this are still being explored, researchers believe hormones that help regulate weight gain are affected by the amount of sleep you get. Psychological issues may also play a role. Some studies have even shown that getting too little sleep can strain the heart, increasing heartbeats and disrupting brain and heart activity.

And, let's be honest, you're probably not your most pleasant self when you're exhausted.

Sleep is so important to overall health that some colleges include healthy sleep as part of their orientation programs. Some have even canceled early morning classes in an effort to give students more flexibility to catch enough ZZZs.

Recharging Your Brain: How Much Sleep Is Enough?

The truth is that it depends on the person. Some people can get by with only five or six hours of sleep a night. But the National Sleep Foundation says adults need seven to nine hours to feel refreshed and be productive.

Say "Yes" to Healthy Sleep Habits

There are steps you can take to make sure you get plenty of ZZZs:

  • Stick to a routine sleep schedule. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same times each day. Sleeping in until the afternoon hours to try to "catch up" on lost sleep will only throw your body more off balance, leaving you exhausted.
  • Don't rely on caffeine, nicotine or other stimulants to give you an extra boost. It may be tempting to take pills to help you stay awake and cram for exams, but they disrupt your sleep patterns and may be harmful. If you need rest, sleep is the best solution.
  • Set the stage for sleep. Dorm rooms aren't exactly spacious, so finding a place to do work or study can be a challenge, but try not to work in bed. Shut down your computer and put away your textbooks an hour or so before turning in for the night. And don't be sheepish about talking with your roommates about setting quiet hours. You may want to use earplugs or a small fan to mask the noise. It's also a good idea to keep the lights low or off, keep the room cool and agree to take phone calls outside the room.
  • Avoid late-night meals and exercise in the few hours leading up to bedtime. Food and the adrenaline rush you get from exercising can make it more difficult to fall asleep. On the other hand, getting routine exercise earlier in the day can promote restful sleep later.
  • Don't pull all-nighters. Learn how to manage your time and keep up with your studies so you aren't left with just one night to cram for a test or write a term paper.
  • Take a deep breath and relax if you have trouble sleeping. There's nothing worse than watching the clock and getting anxious about how many hours of sleep you have left. If you really can't sleep, don't stress. Read a book (not a textbook) or do something else to help you relax, and then try again.
  • Fight the urge to take long naps. While a 20- to 30-minute nap in the early afternoon may help reenergize you, longer naps may interrupt your normal sleep patterns.
  • Take a hot shower before bed to help you relax.

If you think you need help sleeping, make an appointment to talk with someone at the student health center. Unresolved fatigue also can be a symptom of more serious health issues, so if you feel chronically exhausted, it's important to see a health care professional.

© 2014. National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc. All rights reserved. All content provided in this guide is for information purposes only. Any information herein relating to specific medical conditions, preventive care and/or healthy lifestyles does not suggest individual diagnosis or treatment and is not a substitute for medical attention.

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