College is a stressful time for many students. In addition to studying for difficult classes like math and chemistry, we also have club events, Greek life, concerts, plans with friends and Netflix shows to binge watch (13 Reasons Why, anyone?). With so much to do and so little time in the day, it is difficult to get enough sleep at night. In addition, the stress caused by classes and social pressure can often lead to insomnia, making sleep more difficult and less rewarding. Don’t wait until the night before your finals to get enough sleep. Follow these ten tips to stay relaxed and well-rested all semester.
1. Avoid bright lights before bed.
In our digital age, we are all accustomed to checking various social media sites in the half hour before bed. However, this habit can do a lot of damage. Bright lights before bed can often upset your sleep schedule and keep you awake longer. “Artificial light exposure between dusk and the time we go to bed at night suppresses release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, enhances alertness and shifts circadian rhythms to a later hour — making it more difficult to fall asleep,” says Charles Czeisler, Ph.D., M.D., of Harvard Medical School. So while you think your phone habit may not be a big deal, it is hurting your body in ways you wouldn’t typically think. Trust the experts and set the phone down before bed.
2. Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon.
College students typically live on coffee. Everyone has their own signature order at Starbucks or other local coffee shop. While coffee can have its benefits in the morning and sometimes the early afternoon, it’s not a good idea to have a cup of Joe a few hours before bed. You might want to opt for another drink, like decaffeinated coffee, chamomile tea or even just plain water. Drinking coffee late at night will only disrupt your sleep cycle and leave you lying awake in bed.
3. Eat less sugar, especially late at night.
Certain foods, especially chocolate, can keep you awake when you’re ready for bed. In addition to avoiding sugary foods which are bad for your body in many ways, avoiding large meals before bed can help as well. When you eat a large meal, your metabolism speeds up, causing you to be awake when you may want to hit the hay.
4. Exercise more often.
No one is saying you have to become a professional athlete in order to sleep well. Nevertheless, you should still try to stay active. This could be a simple activity, such as taking a short hike or walking through a mall with friends. People who stay active tend to sleep better than those who don’t. Even if you are studying all day, try to take a break and go for a brisk walk, and maybe listen to an audiobook as you go. You might want to check out your school’s gym a few times a week or schedule some time for a mild workout during the week.
5. Stick to a regular sleep schedule.
While the typical college experience tends to involve a lot of all-nighters, this habit won’t be as helpful as you think during finals week. Sleeping all day and staying awake all night can seriously screw up your sleep schedule. Try to go to sleep around the same time every night, maybe around 10 P.M. Also try to aim for 6-8 hours of sleep each night and avoid sleeping in too much on weekends. Keeping a regular schedule will help regulate your Circadian rhythm and you will sleep much better every night of the week.
6. Plan relaxing activities, like reading or taking a hike, throughout the week.
As students, we are pressured to be involved in as many activities as possible. Many of these activities, such as the school newspaper or Mock Trial, can be stressful. Taking on too many stressful activities at once can be draining and can induce anxiety. To prevent these effects, schedule time throughout the week to participate in a relaxing activity. Examples include reading, hiking, walking, shopping, yoga and playing or listening to music. These activities can keep you relaxed and reduce stress.
7. Don’t procrastinate on studying.
You don’t want to be the person who waits to start the project until the night before it’s due. Stay focused on your homework from when it is assigned until the final due date. Stressing about projects, homework assignments or exams the night before can be incredibly stressful, and you might be pressured to pull an all-nighter. Taking preventative steps beforehand can keep your grades high and your stress levels low.
8. Don’t obsess over sleep.
Anyone who has suffered from insomnia has most likely obsessed over how little sleep they’ve gotten. This obsession, however, can make sleep even more difficult. Take your mind off of sleeping and focus on other things, even if it is as simple as streaming a movie or television show. If your insomnia persists for more than a few days, don’t hesitate to contact a doctor and ask for a medical opinion.
9. Nap strategically.
Studies show that the best naps are short — around thirty minutes — and are taken in the early-mid afternoon. Taking a longer nap will leave you groggy and unable to sleep later that night.
10. Cut down on your workload.
Do you really need to be on the debate team, French club, track team and have a part-time job? Although these activities can help boost a resume, they can also distract you from your classes, stress you out and force you to stay up later to finish your homework. While you should stay involved, it may be best to limit your workload to two or three activities that you are very passionate about. Your interests can still come across on your resume and you will feel better overall.
While bad sleep habits are tempting, especially in a college environment, following these tips can help you feel relaxed and ready to take on tasks. Staying rested is of the utmost importance and these steps should not be skipped. So start preparing now to sleep regularly, exercise more and cut down on stress. Your body will thank you.
Lead Image Credit: Nomao Saeki via Unsplash