For busy college students getting back in the swing of school, sleep is often not a top priority, but there are several good reasons to make it one.
Most college students have likely heard the well-known saying that of “good grades, social life, and sleep, and you can only pick two.” It’s estimated that 60% of college-aged kids are sleep deprived compared to 30% of adults, meaning many students are not choosing sleep!
College students have a lot to juggle, between hours of studying, socializing, and often working. Those taking night classes or going to school online also face similar time crunch conundrums.
It’s not exactly surprising or groundbreaking that young adults aren’t prioritizing sleep, but many cite work stress, school stress, friends, and an environment not conducive to rest as reasons their rest suffers in addition to not having enough time.
With so much to do and so much to balance, it’s not hard to see why things like adequate sleep and healthy eating get pushed aside, but for students, sleep does much more than reduce fatigue – it can actually impact your learning, mind, and even long-term health.
Sleep is Worth Your Time: Here’s Why
When you’re young and healthy, it’s incredibly easy to dismiss the idea of future effects of sleep deprivation.
But there are many ways a lack of sleep affects you immediately, in ways that can have a significant impact on your grades, safety and even your appearance.
It Helps You Learn & Memorize
Taking any psychology or biology classes? You’ll likely learn that sleep plays a significant role in how your brain processes and sorts through memories and things you learn during the day.
Several studies bear out these connections, and lack of sleep has also been shown to negatively impact grade point average. If you want to get good grades and have a healthy GPA to flash in future interviews or for grad school, than getting rest is imperative.
It Helps You Stay in Shape
For many students, being fit and looking healthy is important. In addition to getting exercise and eating well, sleep also plays an important part in fitness. Rest is when your muscles recover and grow. A lack of rest affects hormones and other factors in the body that contribute to fat gain.
One Brigham Young University study found that young women who woke up at consistent times and had an average seven to eight hours of rest were more likely to have healthier body weights than those who maintained inconsistent schedules. Another found that sleep-deprived teens and young adults were more likely to be obese later in life.
It Helps You Look Better
If you want to look good while socializing, than it might interest you to know that a lack of rest actually changes how people perceive you. You’ve likely seen the effects of an all-nighter on your own face the next day – saggier and dull skin, bloodshot eyes, and dark circles.
In a Swedish study published in journal Sleep, observers rated images of sleep-deprived people as less attractive, sadder, less approachable and less healthy compared to when they were well-rested – not exactly the best impression!
It Helps Prevent Illness
With so much to do every day, the last thing you probably have time for is a pesky cold or other illness. Not getting enough sleep impairs your immune system and makes you more susceptible to bugs.
According to WebMD, a lack of sleep causes T-cells to decreases and inflammation to increase, making the body less able to respond to and fight illnesses.
It Makes You Safer & Smarter
While you rest, your brain clears out waste products and replenishes energy stores. Getting good quality sleep keeps your brain firing on all cylinders, so to speak, and helps you make smarter decisions since you’ve got a quicker reaction time.
This is helpful for school and work, and even for more practical and mundane tasks like driving. When you’re sleep-deprived, your brain does not process information as quickly and you cannot react at the same speed.
Drowsy driving is a big deal, playing a role in over 100,000 accidents per year, and the age group most likely to drive drowsy and be involved in accidents related to tiredness are college-aged adults.
It Helps You Feel Better
A well-rested mind is better equipped to manage and deal with stress (of which there is plenty in school) and it also has mood-boosting benefits. On the other hand, a lack of sleep is associated with difficulty coping with mental and physical stress and is also linked to depression and anxiety as well.
Setting the Stage for Better Sleep in School
The average university student gets around six to six and a half hours of sleep according to surveys, which is simply not enough for your brain and body to perform optimally. Working on getting restful sleep, having better hygiene and minimizing common sleep stealers can help you increase the amount of rest you get.
Aim for Consistency
For the most part, it’s smart to try and keep fairly regular sleep and wake times. Try not to vary more than hour or less, even on the weekends. This will help you avoid sleep issues and according to the BYU study, can also help you maintain a healthier weight.
When you are planning your university class schedule and if you plan on working, be sure that you will have enough time in the day to get everything done and still have a reasonable amount of time for studying and resting.
Make Your Space Sleep-Safe
Your environment can make big difference to how well you sleep. The key things to look at are temperature, sound, and light. You want cooler temperatures in the 60 to 70-degree range as they encourage sleep, no disturbing sounds and a room as dark as possible.
Sound machines, earbuds with ambient noises or earplugs can help minimize the noise in a shared environment, and light-blocking shades or an eye mask can reduce sleep-stealing light.
Learn Ways to Manage Stress
In the University of Alabama study, many cited stress as a leading factor in losing sleep. Campuses usually have a wide range of resources that can help though, such as classes or support faculty that can help you learn how to better manage time or cope with the stress of adjusting to school and new responsibilities.
Staying on top of schoolwork and not taking more courses than you can handle can help avoid end-of-term pressure, and studies also show that getting regular exercise also helps reduce feelings of stress.
Avoid Cramming & Study Smarter
There’s a good chance you’ve heard your professors nagging that cramming right before a test is ineffective, but they do have science on their side. What’s particularly ineffective is cramming in a sleep-deprived state, which makes pulling an all-nighter unwise.
The better solution would be to schedule regular study time throughout the semester, but if you are left trying to cram a lot of information, it’s still important not to eat into sleep time, as this has clear and documented effects on test performance.
The State University of New York says that scientifically, the best way to cram for a test is to study in 20-50 minute bursts with short breaks to improve retention, eat a balanced diet the week before exams and don’t skip breakfast, switch up where you study, and no matter what, don’t pull an all-nighter.
The findings of multiple studies also suggest your mind is more receptive to learning after a nap, especially after you’ve been awake all day, so it could also be helpful to work a quick afternoon snooze in before a long study session.
Keep Naps Short
When you do nap, it is ideal to keep them short. Less than 20 minutes is considered ideal for improving alertness and boosting your brain, while longer naps could give you sleep inertia or throw off nighttime patterns.
Although it’s cliché, college is a time for learning to be a responsible adult, and part of this is balancing responsibilities, fun and less exciting things like sleep and nutrition.
No one expects college students to go to bed by 10 PM every night or never scrimp on sleep. But, making a conscious effort to give rest greater priority and knowing how to make the most of the time you do have to sleep can help you do better at school and stay healthy, paying off both immediately and for the long-term.
Do you have sleep tips or tricks to share with college students? Does your college student value what sleep can do for them?
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.