Let’s face it: Sleep deprivation is as much a part of the collegiate experience as bad dining hall food, midterm anxiety and turning piles of unwashed laundry into bean bags on Parents’ Weekend. And most of the time, it simply isn’t possible to get a solid 7-9 hours, especially if you’re an athlete, work the night shift on or off-campus, or have got to balance that chemistry equation and click send so your TA doesn’t blow a gasket. But the following college sleeping tips might help regulate your slumber, and before you know it, a few easy tweaks to your daily – and nightly – routine will make sure you’re up and away for that 8 AM lecture, no matter how you feel about Egyptian history.
A little history lesson
Prior to the nineteenth century, the average human in the Western world was getting about nine hours of sleep, which, even today, is considered an optimal amount of rest, especially for students. But industrialization – the morning whistle of the mill, the advent of punch cards, the rapid symbiosis between manufacturing and public consumption – changed all that. And the invention of a little piece of technology known as the light bulb officially reduced the average person’s sleep count from nine to seven hours. In the last hundred years or so, the intensity of collegiate and corporate workloads has spiked; the globalization of the last thirty years now has traders in London going into the office at 11 PM so they can attend virtual conferences with their colleagues in Hong Kong; and outsourcing routes your 4 PM (EST) to tech support in Bangalore, where “Mary” is asking, at 1:30 AM her time, whether the green light on your modem is blinking.
You can read some more info on the history of sleep here.
So, what does all this have to do with sleeping in college? Institute the following tips into your day and night, and you may have an easier time keeping up with the demands of your future employment.
1. Seven to nine hours is important
A recent article in The New York Times refutes the idea that the body needs more than six hours of sleep per night. The author cites historical – and international – patterns where napping throughout the day is encouraged, thus enabling a person to sleep less at night. But six hours doesn’t allow your body to experience enough slow-wave sleep (the part of your sleep when you’re least responsive to external stimuli), and six hours of REM sleep, when your eyes are fluttering and your muscles are still active, isn’t restful.
There’s nothing wrong with naps, either. In fact, if you have an hour or more between classes, scope out a student lounge on campus with comfortable furniture and treat yourself to a snooze. You’ll feel alert for the next lecture, and retain more of what you learn.
2. Step away from the electronics
This includes your iMac, MacBook, PC, iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, StrawBerry, whatever.
Put. It. Away.
At any given point after 9 PM, college students all over the world are watching YouTube videos or reading blogs (like this one!) simply by the back lights of their screens. A study published in the journal Applied Ergonomics (and ironically linked to the health blog on the ‘Times’ website) found that exposure to light from computers tablets significantly lowered levels of melatonin, a chemical secreted by the body which regulates our sleep cycle. So at least twenty minutes before bed, turn everything off.
3. After you’re awake, make going back to bed pointless
If you put your clock, or alarm-ready cell phone, within earshot but somewhere you’d have to get out of bed to turn off, you may as well get going. Resist the temptation to run back to the covers. Just give yourself a few seconds – either pace about a bit, stretch, or splash cold water on your face before you go about the morning. It has to be done. (I personally remind myself of my education’s price tag, and that always gets me going.)
4. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time everyday
I know, I know – even I’m cringing at the thought. Come Saturday morning, who cares about circadian rhythms when you can turn off the alarm and snooze till 2? Inculcating this one rule will make the whole list much easier. Chances are, the span of time between your bedtime and when your alarm goes off is almost exactly what your body needs to recharge. Sleep allows your physiology to multitask, too: in addition to recharging, the body is repairing anything from bruises to over-rubbed eyelids, and your metabolism is dispatching necessary nutrients from the day’s meals to relevant parts of the body. If your body doesn’t get the chance to accomplish these tasks, the next day will be much tougher.
I hope this helps you drift off a little easier tonight; remember, these tips will make it easier for you to deal with college stress. And by no means am I discouraging that late-night discussion about geopolitics, Kantian philosophy or the merits of ‘The Simpsons’ versus ‘Family Guy.’ Those are important parts of the college experience too. But your sleep will enable you to handle all aspects of your life, in and after college.
Any comments on these college sleeping tips?