With work, school, relationships, homework and those dreaded finals, it’s no surprise that college students don’t get adequate sleep. But what’s surprising is what happens to your mind and body without those zzz’s.
UNM Student Health & Counseling (SHAC) is teaching students when it comes to sleep patterns the more you know, the better you do.
Here’s what they mean:
1. Pulling an all-nighter can cause you to do worse on an exam, not better.
Students often feel the need to stay up all night preparing for an exam, however SHAC counselors and nurses advise students to skip the last-minute studying and sleep instead. “I actually find that more students are concerned about their academics and so they will study rather than sleep,” said Barbara Krause, nurse practitioner at SHAC. “Students who stay-up all night studying won’t retain the information they need for the next day, making test-taking even harder.” The counselors all agree, that sleep is not something students can deprioritize, it might even improve their test-taking skills.
2. Sleeping all day on the weekend won’t help you catch-up on sleep.
Staying up late studying or partying can take a toll on student’s bodies and sleeping in the next day doesn’t help. Ruben Zurita, a clinical mental health counselor at SHAC, says students will never be able to catch up on sleep—they are always running on a “sleep debt.” He also explained that sleeping during the day is more damaging, as students aren’t able to get full spectrum light while they are asleep. “Mostly we get light from our sunlight. Being asleep during the time when we actually have full spectrum light out means the student is up later when the sun is going down. It actually makes it harder for the student to reset their circadian rhythm.”
3. Stress from school isn’t the only thing keeping you awake.
Exams, homework and deadlines aren’t the only things preventing students from having a good night’s sleep. Relationship issues, family drama and other life stresses can cause insomnia. “They worry about finances, they worry about losing their scholarship, they worry about global warming,” says Stacy Lowe, clinical counselor at SHAC. The counselors suggest that it is important for students to find what is stressing them out, other than school, so that they can resolve that problem.
4. Save your emotions for the morning.
Trying to resolve issues at night won’t help students sleep, but will just “wind them up” and prevent them from getting a good-night’s rest according to Zurita. He encourages students who feel stressed to write down their stresses in a “worry journal” and resolve those issues the next day, rather than before they go to bed. Reuben said that by attempting to resolve these issues at night, students are engaging in emotional-provoking stimuli, which will keep them awake longer.
5. Don’t waste time in bed.
Another great tip for students is to only use the bed for sleeping. “Do nothing in bed except for sleep,” says Zurita. “Many students really break that rule.” He attributed this to the dorm lifestyle, where students use their bed as a safe haven in a cramped area. “They end up doing everything there, including getting on Facebook, social media, doing their readings, chatting and that really violates the code of good sleep.”
6. Learn how to do wind-down activities.
Students are told that if they can’t fall asleep in 45 minutes, they should get up. “You’re not getting up to get up, you’re getting up to go back to bed,” says Zurita. Students should be doing these activities lying down, so that they can feel tired naturally. Reuben explained that the activity should be slightly hypnotic and should be boring. If students are reading a book, they should make sure that it is something that they have read before—something familiar with no surprises or suspense.
7. Mental illness plays a role in sleep deprivation.
For those who suffer from depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses, sleep can be a struggle. For students who have these issues, doing something as simple as avoiding caffeine can improve their sleep. Krause proposes that students only consume caffeinated beverages in the morning, before noon so that they aren’t too energetic at the end of the day. Daily exercise is also a great way to expend energy.
8. Marijuana doesn’t always calm you down.
Although marijuana can make you sleepy, that doesn’t mean it improves your sleep. Lowe says that marijuana can have the opposite affect on some, leaving them more restless. “For some people it can trigger anxiety, for some people it can trigger panic attacks and paranoia.” The counselors advise that students not use marijuana at night if they want to get efficient sleep.
9. Alcohol makes you sleepy, but doesn’t help you sleep.
While alcohol is a sedative, it can actually ruin your sleep pattern. According to Zurita and the other counselors, alcohol helps people fall asleep, but won’t keep them asleep. Students who consume alcohol and then fall asleep have a higher chance of disrupting their REM sleep. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement and is when someone is in their deepest and most productive sleep. “Alcohol actually does help people fall asleep, but it messes up the REM sleep. We tend to engage in our REM dream state later in the night and that’s why people are waking up in the night, is because the REM sleep is messed up due to the alcohol,” says Zurita.
10. Create habits or a routine for bedtime.
All counselors and nurses agreed, that creating a routine for bedtime is essential, especially for people with sleep disorders. A routine can help the body and mind relax, making falling asleep much easier. Zurita suggests incorporating laying down activities in a routine like reading. If students are using electronics to read before bed, Zurita says it is best that they turn those devices on “night mode” to reduce the amount of blue light emitted from the devices. He explained that blue light is more captivating compared to other colors on the spectrum, which can cause alertness. Having a routine ultimately signal the brain it’s figuratively closing time.
When asked how much sleep is enough sleep for college students, the SHAC professionals said it is healthier to have a consistent sleep pattern—when you fall asleep and wake up— than a set number of hours slept each night.