We are a generation of college students who flaunt our busy schedules, our Venti iced coffees, and our all-nighters like a badge of honor. If I were to “complain” (AKA brag) to a friend that I only got five hours of sleep last night, they would likely one-up me and say, “I’ve only gotten four for the last two nights.” I would honestly be impressed and feel like a bit of slacker for giving myself that extra hour.
We have been raised in a society that values busyness and productivity, and we pride ourselves on taking on as many responsibilities and commitments as we can handle. Many of us are juggling classes, jobs, internships, relationships, community service, family, and social commitments, AND trying to make the most of our college years. Exhaustion is a constant state of being, but we put it on the back burner and keep on going.
According to the Palo Alto Sleep Foundation, sacrificing sleep may seem like a short-term solution, but sleep is absolutely critical to our long-term health and well being. Our minds and bodies need 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and if we continuously deny our bodies those hours, we are accumulating a sleep debt that causes immediate and long-term consequences.
- Decreased performance and alertness
- Memory and cognitive impairment
- Stressed relationships
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Psychiatric problems including depression and mood disorders
Despite the fact that poor sleep habits have some alarming consequences, college students have a hard time getting adequate sleep. 22.2% of USD undergraduates report that a lack of sleep has impacted their performance in class, or their GPA at some time in college (NCHA Health Survey 2014). Fortunately, good sleep habits can be cultivated as easily as healthy eating habits, exercise habits, and study habits. If we choose to make sleep a priority, we can begin to build a lifetime of healthy sleep patterns. Here are some tips for achieving a healthy sleep routine, and getting a good night’s sleep:
- Stick to a sleep schedule. Try to maintain a set bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends to help regulate your body’s clock.
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. Put away homework, phones and computer screens, and separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety. Take a hot shower, read a book, do some yoga, and allow yourself to unwind.
- Exercise daily. Vigorous and moderate exercise will tire you out, and help you to get a great night’s sleep. Just try to avoid exercise late in the evening, as it wakes your body up and makes it hard to fall asleep.
- Create your space. Design your sleep environment to establish the best conditions for sleep. Try to keep your room cool and free of noises that can disturb your sleep.
- If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. Check out these meditation exercises for a quick way to relax.
- Avoid alcohol and heavy meals in the evening. Digestion can cause discomfort and take away from a restorative night’s sleep, and alcohol causes you to fall asleep faster, but prevents your body from going into restorative REM sleep cycles (National Sleep Foundation.)
The University of San Diego has many resources on campus where you can learn more about the importance of sleep. For more information, and tips on improving your sleep hygiene, check out our page on Sleep Management, or visit the Center for Health and Wellness Promotion in UC 161.