The Complete Guide to Sleeping Better at University

Moving away to university can be a daunting yet rewarding time of your life, and a significant change in this will be your sleeping environment. Most people will have been sleeping in the same bed for many years, so this can be a significant change.

Optimising your sleeping environment will ensure that you live a productive student life because many students find that they struggle to get sleep like they used to before they moved.

Many studies back the notion that university students are getting less than adequate sleep. The University of Georgia Health Center revealed that average college students attain just between 6-6.9 hours of sleep each night largely due to an overload of activities.

An additional study including One thousand one hundred twenty-five students aged 17 to 24 years from an urban Midwestern university found that over 60% were categorized as poor-quality sleepers.

It’s Also been revealed that 62% of US high school s
tudents are getting an insufficient level of sleep every night. This shows that it’s a deeply ingrained habit that follows students right through their education life into university.

There are several things you can do to improve your situation and get a restful night’s sleep to leave to feeling revitalised in the morning. 


Why Do Students Get Less Sleep?

Newfound Freedom

Going away to university is often the first time a person gets to live away from direct adult supervision which is usually from their parents. With nobody closely monitoring what you do, you can quickly slip into bad sleep habits such as staying up later into the night whereas when you were living with your parents you may have a more structured sleeping routine.

When you’re at university you have full control of your daily schedule which can take some people longer to adjust to than others but it’s a big part of developing into an adult.

Social Life

When you enrol in university you’ll open up a new world of social opportunities and the relationships and friendships you make can last a lifetime and this is incredibly important for making your university experience as good as possible.

However, this increased social life can cause problems with your sleep and stop you from getting a full nights sleep. Balancing a social life whilst trying to get an adequate amount of sleep takes time to implement.

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New Sleeping Environment

If you’ve moved out of your family home to move to university then it’s likely you’ve been living in the same bedroom for most of your adolescent years. This means that you’re extremely comfortable with those surroundings making it easy to fall off to sleep.

When you move to university, your dorm room is likely to be less homely making it more difficult to go to sleep. This is worsened if you get a lumpy mattress or blinds that leak light.

It will take at least a few nights to feel fully comfortable in your new room especially with considering how manic this will be with all the other things going on in your life.

Additional Alcohol Consumption

In today’s modern culture, alcohol has become a large part of university life but it’s a common myth that alcohol helps you to fall asleep. Although this can feel like the case, it actually prevents you from falling into a deep REM sleep where your body is in it’s most restful state.

A study by Faculty of Biomedical Sciences and Engineering, BioMediTech Institute, Tampere University of Technology, Tampere, Finland found that even low alcohol consumption decreased the physiological recovery that sleep normally provides by 9.3 per cent.

In addition, the study also revealed that Moderate alcohol consumption reduced restorative sleep quality by 24 per cent, whilst high alcohol intake caused a reduction of up to 39.2 per cent.

Roommate Disturbing Your Sleeping Pattern

If you’re in a position where you have to share your room with another person then this can cause havoc to your sleep habits. 

This is especially the case if their sleep habits are the opposite to you for example, if they’re a night owl but you like to go sleep early each night. This can leave you staying awake until they finally go to sleep.

Even if their sleep pattern is aligned with you then your sleep can still be disturbed. All it takes is them turning the light on or bumping into objects around the room which can take you out of your deep sleep.

Noisy Student Halls and Dorms

It’s not just your roommate that can disturb your sleep, but especially if you’re in your first year of university then it’s likely that you will be in a dorm block sharing the building with hundreds of other students.

All these students will have different schedules and are able to come and go from the building as they please. This can disturb your sleep restricting the number of hours of sleep you get each night.

So even if you turn down the night out with friends, you might have your sleep disturbed by the same people returning home.

Busy Schedule

At university, you’re going to juggling a whole load of activities and tasks, from waking up at the crack of dawn to attend lectures to get to sports practice. Then you’ll have to study at night whilst finding time to study and socialise.

This can be compounded if you have to work a part-time or full-time job around your studies. Having this sheer number of activities can cause the biggest casualty in your life to be your sleep.


Why is Sleep Important?

If you’ve made it this far then by now you know that the average student isn’t getting enough sleep but we’ve outlined why sleep is so important.

Better Sleep Equals Better Grades

Sleep is incredibly important as a student. A recent study conducted at MIT confirmed that sleep is fundamental for the storage of long-term memories.

An additional study carried out at the University of Washington and the Salk Institute on students attending two public high schools found that they had improved focus when the start of the school day was delayed by 55 minutes.

This delay allowed the students to get more sleep, enabling them to feel more rested and in better condition to attend school.

Also, if you’re tired you may find it harder to focus in class and remember information. This can make it more difficult to recall this information once you enter an exam situation.

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Researchers at UC Berkeley recently found when we sleep we boost our ability to learn. This happens in the phase the sleep that occurs just prior to entering the deepest NREM sleep phase and REM sleep otherwise known as the dream state.

“A lot of that spindle-rich sleep is occurring the second half of the night, so if you sleep six hours or less, you are shortchanging yourself. You will have fewer spindles, and you might not be able to learn as much,” claimed Bryce Mander, a post-doctoral fellow in psychology at UC Berkeley who led the study.

A small study published in the journal Scientific Reports, where researchers followed 61 students for 30 days and monitored their sleep patterns.

This study found that students with irregular sleep schedules and patterns were more likely to experience lower academic performance.  This further highlights the significant role that sleep plays in university.

Bad Sleep Can Increase The Chances Of Dropping Out Completely

Bad sleep can develop to the point where you may need to drop courses or drop out completely.

The Center for College Sleep at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota carried out a study involving 55,322 U.S. college students which revealed that for each night of the week that they experienced sleep problems this was linked to a 0.02-point drop in their grade point average

More alarmingly this increased the odds of having to drop a course by 10%, which identified sleep as having the same impact on a students grades as binge drinking and drug use.

The students in the study reported an average of 2.4 nights per week when they experienced sleep troubles, difficulty falling asleep, woke up exhausted, or felt tired throughout the day.

Related: Sleep and Academic Performance

High-Quality Sleep Aids Athletic Performance

A large amount of research has been dedicated to investigating the link between sleep and athletic performance.

Poor sleep can have a negative effect on reaction times, Injury prevention mental concentration and energy levels. Too put it simply if you’re playing sport to a high level then sleep quality needs to be a key consideration when you create your daily schedule.

Sleep plays a large role in the creation and secretion of important bodily hormones. Lack of sleep can cause testosterone and HGH release to reduce throughout the night which can then negatively affect your athletic performance.

Related: Sleep and athletic performance

Good Sleep Equals a Happier Life

Without getting too technical, a good nights sleep generally puts you in a better mood. Not many people are very fun to be around when they’re tired and irritable.

Sleeping is a way for your body to restore its energy, fight off illness and fatigue by strengthening our immune system.

A new study by USC computer scientists found that students who implemented healthy sleep habits delivered better academic results, but also reported greater overall life satisfaction.

University has unique demands that you are unlikely to experience at any other point in your life and you’re sleeping habits are a key piece of a complex puzzle.


How Much Sleep is Required?

We know that sleep is very important for students but this poses the question of how much sleep is enough.

According to Stanford University, "the average sleep requirement for college students is well over eight hours, and the majority of students would fall within the range of this value plus or minus one hour."

There is no exact number that everyone can stick to because we all have different bodies and follow different schedules throughout the day. The best way to find out your sleep requirements is to experiment with different sleep-wake times to discover what leaves you feeling the best.

Studies have shown that people who sleep between 6.5 hr. and 7.5 hr. a night, live the longest. Whereas people who sleep 8 hr. or more, or less than 6.5 hr., have slightly shorter life spans.


Symptoms of Poor Sleep

According to Medical News Today, there are a number of signs that you are sleep deprived:

- Constant yawning

- Moodiness

- Fatigue

- Irritability

- Low/depressed mood

- Increased difficulty in learning new concepts

- Memory issues & forgetfulness

- Lack of concentration or a "fuzzy" head

- Lower motivation and drive

- Clumsiness

- Increased appetite and carbohydrate cravings

The degree of sleep deprivation can range from total acute sleep loss to chronic deprivation due to a reduction in total sleep time.

This can happen over one night slowly develop over weeks, months, or even years. Luckily most of the physical side effects of sleep deprivation are relatively minor and quickly reversible.


Are You Suffering From Chronic Sleep Deprivation?

If you’re suffering from a lack of sleep and you’ve been through all the suggested tips above but find that you’re still experiencing the same symptoms, then it’s time to seek professional medical help.

If you’re currently enrolled in university then you’ll have access to your student health centre. You can simply make an appointment with a doctor who will then check your symptoms and formulate a remedy plan to solve your issues.

Several of the most common sleep disorders include:

Insomnia

Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders and is the inability to fall asleep, stay asleep throughout the night or Waking earlier in the morning than planned

It’s common that everyone experiences a bad night of sleep every so often, but insomnia is characterized as a chronic issue. Due to the nature of the disorder, it has been linked to other issues such as anxiety, stress and depression.

There are two main classifications of insomnia and this varies on the length of time you have been experiencing symptoms.

Acute insomnia is experiencing sleep loss over a short period of time, ranging from one night to a few weeks. Chronic insomnia Is when a person experiences poor sleep quality for at least 3 nights a week for a month or longer.

Bruxism

Bruxism is a disorder caused by a person clenching their jaw and teeth grinding throughout the night. Bruxism has also been linked to stress and anxiety due to the lack of sleep that this can often cause.

It’s common that it doesn't always cause symptoms so a person may not even be aware that they suffer from it. However, some people experience facial pain and headaches, and it can wear down your teeth over time

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea affects around 22 million Americans, however, it’s estimated that up to 80% of people are not even aware that they are suffering from sleep apnea symptoms.

Sleep apnea occurs when a person stops breathing for several seconds whilst they sleep. This is caused when soft tissues in the throat relax and collapse which blocks the airways stopping oxygen from being transported to the lungs.

Their various stages of sleep apnea, a partial blockage can result in snoring whereas a full blockage can completely stop your breathing. The sufferer will wake up gasping for air.

This can occur several times in one night which prevents you from entering deep REM sleep where restorative processes take place.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless Leg Syndrome is characterized as the persistent urge to move your legs whilst resting. This is caused by a sensation in the legs which have been described by sufferers as pulling, burning, itching or aching with the only way of relieving this being to move or massage the leg.

This is referred to as a sleep disorder because this regular movement affects the ability to maintain deep REM sleep through the night. This then leads to sleep deprivation which can then negatively lower your quality of life including memory, sleepiness and stress.

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder described by the brain's incapability of regulating its sleep/wakefulness cycle.

People suffering from narcolepsy will experience chronic daytime sleepiness and find that they just unexpectedly fall asleep throughout the day.

These “episodes” can happen at any time, during any activity and can often be without warning. This means that you can experience this during work or university hours whilst exercising, walking or even when operating heavy machinery such as driving.


Why You Should Avoid All-nighters

Now a big part of university life is managing your workload however there may be times when you feel the only solution is to do an all-nighter. However, some students rely on all-nighters and it becomes a regular occurrence and a habit.

Of course some people will be better at studying in the evening/night instead of throughout the day however the issue is when sleep deprivation is added into the fix when you’re awake through the full night.

All-nighters may seem like they’re doing no harm to your body but there are several reasons why you should avoid them:

Lower Cognitive Ability

The typical reason for pulling an all-nighter is to concentrate on a specific task which is usually an essay. However, keeping your body awake and depriving it of sleep harms cognitive ability.

Studies have revealed that the higher the level of sleep deprivation, the lower the levels of attention and memory impairment.

So, as the night progresses your ability to concentrate on your work will dwindle meaning that a 3-hour piece of work in regular hours can take you significantly longer to complete.

Lowered Ability to Retain Information

Many students think that cramming information into our brains several hours before an exam will help retain information long term.

In fact, the opposite occurs; when we attempt to learn information quickly it’s only committed to short term memory meaning that it can disappear quickly. If you don’t repeat this information then it will disappear in as little as just a few minutes.

Cramming information doesn’t commit information from short term to long term which makes it not conducive for performing well on an exam or project.

Increases Stress Levels

A huge reason why using an all-nighter to cram is a bad idea is that it dramatically increases your stress levels.

This is especially if you’re working to a tight deadline then the worry of not being prepared causes your stress and anxiety levels to rise which then has a negative effect on your ability to concentrate worsening your preparation.

Tiredness For The Following Days

The problem with all-nighters is that it can then affect your sleep for several days. As soon as you’ve completed your work it may be the mid to late morning when you finally get to sleep. 

This can lead to you sleeping right through the day which will then causes havoc to your natural sleeping pattern also referred to as a circadian rhythm.
One all-nighter can send you into a cycle of sleep deprivation as you continue to fulfil your other life commitments whilst feeling the urge to sleep throughout the day.


Is Your Sleep Surface Fit For Purpose?

Before you start altering other parts of your life, you need to start with the basics which is the sleep surface. You can have all the other factors perfectly optimised, but if your sleep surface is inadequate then you can still have poor sleep.

  • Mattress
  • Pillow
  • Bed Sheets
  • Blankets

If you're moving into a university campus room then it's unlikely that you'll be able to bring your own mattress. What you need to do is ensure that the mattress supplied is fit for purpose. 

Check that the surface doesn't sag or have dips. If you find that the first few nights are uncomfortable then you need to raise this with the building manager and request a replacement.

Long term sleep on a poor quality mattress can lead to some serious physical issues and lower quality sleep.


17 Ways To Sleep Better At University

1. Blackout Curtains

It’s rare that you’ll live in a room that doesn’t have external light shining in whether this is street lights or lights from cars driving past. This external light can disturb your sleep through the night, decreasing the amount of high-quality sleep you get.

To combat this, you can buy blackout curtains that block all light from getting in so you can maintain a dark environment for the full night.

If you’re in university halls or a student house, then you may not be able to get permission from the landlord to change the curtains or have enough money to buy them. As an alternative, you can instead buy an eye mask which will have the same effect of blocking out the light.

2. Mattress Topper

Ideally, you would change your mattress for a better alternative that matches your sleeping style, but this is unlikely to be feasible because as a student you’re probably not going to be able to afford it.

Instead, you can invest in a mattress topper which is a fraction of the cost and is a way of improving your sleep surface making it more comfortable which will lead to a more restful sleep.

Mattress toppers are usually made from memory foam and contour to the shape of your body to relieve tension.

3. Ear Plugs

Living in a student environment there's going to be more noise than you’ve probably ever been used to. Students have less of a fixed schedule, so you’ll likely have housemates coming in and out of your flat/home at different hours, including when you’re sleeping.

Ear plugs can eliminate the noise while you’re trying to sleep and only cost a few pounds for dozens of pairs. Earplugs have a range of different materials so you can find the best that feel the most comfortable, so you won’t even realise they’re in your ears.

4. Be Consistent

Getting good sleep is all about consistency and to do this, you need to try and sleep around the same time each night, even over the weekend. You might find it difficult to stay consistent over the weekend because it's more tempting to sleep in if you have fewer commitments.

The more significant variance you have in your sleep schedules from day to day, the lower quality sleep you’ll get. A common problem is if you sleep in it’ll be harder to sleep at your usual night sleeping time, so when it’s time to wake up early again you’ll only get fewer hours sleep.

5. Keep Your Bed for Sleep-Related Activities

It’s not always going to be possible, but you should try only to use your bed for sleeping and not the rest of your daily activities such as reading and doing work. You’ll have other communal areas in your living space where you can watch tv and socialise.

This will improve your sleep because your body will get used to the trigger that getting into bed means rest and not anything else. Also, using other areas of your living space will mean that you socialise more with other people and will improve your overall university experience.

6. Nap

As a university student, you’ll probably have an active nightlife which will often mean staying up until the early hours and then having to attend lectures before lunchtime which can result in fewer hours of sleep.

Naps are an essential tool when it comes to university life and gives you the opportunity to recharge your batteries. Some people aren’t used to the idea of napping throughout the day, but if you have a large workload then its necessary to ensure that you remain alert and working to a high standard.

Your naps only need to last 30 minutes because you don’t want to fall into a deep sleep which can cause you to feel groggy when you wake.

7. Limit Tech Usage

Students tend to be night owls whether this is working shifts, socialising or completing university work. However, exposing yourself to technology screens can negatively affect your sleep.

Exposure to technology such as laptop and tablet screens delay the release of sleep hormones such as Melatonin that are responsible for making you feel tired. This delay makes it harder to fall asleep.

We understand that limiting this exposure can be difficult if you’re completing work and meeting deadlines. However, it's recommended you stop using them at least an hour before you plan on sleeping which will become easier to do the better you get at managing your workload.

8. Re-Arrange The Room

Rearranging the furniture in your room can benefit your sleep quality. For instance, if your bed is underneath a window, this can make you feel colder throughout the night which can either disturb your sleep or make it harder to fall asleep, to begin with.

Moving the bed away from the window can also limit the disturbance that outside light and noise have when you’re trying to sleep.

9. Avoid Caffeine Before Bed

Caffeine has cemented its place in society and is a powerful stimulant that can be used to increase alertness and concentration. However, you should avoid consuming it in the evening or close to when you’re planning to go to sleep.

Caffeine stays present in the body for an average of six to eight hours. If you’re a regular coffee drinker, then it’s advised you taper down consumption throughout the day, so it doesn’t affect your sleep.

10. Regulate Your Diet

University life can become overwhelming and you can often be juggling your education with employment. This can lead to you only having one proper sized meal which will usually fall at the end of the day.

This can often lead to you overcompensating and having a large meal which can ruin your sleep quality but also lead to unwanted weight gain.

Eating late at night can result in you experiencing gastrointestinal discomfort. We don’t recommend not eating, but the closer to your bedtime that you eat, the smaller and lighter the meal needs to be.

11. Don’t Study or Complete Work the Night Before

It’s well documented that those sacrifice sleep to study actually deliver worse grades in comparison to those who decide to sleep instead. The amount that you sleep has a stronger link to better grade than time spent studying.

The reason sleep is so important to the learning process is because, without it, learning remains temporary. When you fall asleep, the learned information is shifted from short term to long term memory.

By not studying late into the night, this will allow you to maintain a more consistent sleep schedule meaning that you will wake in the morning feeling rejuvenated.

12. Take Advantage of Available Exercise Facilities

Exercise is a positive way of improving your sleep drive which will make it easier to fall asleep at night. There has been reliable research which has proven that people who exercise regularly experience better sleep compared to those that don’t.

Exercise also has other great benefits such as boosting your immune system, releasing stress and increasing blood flow to the brain. This increased blood flow improves brain performance, essentially making you smarter and sharper.

Taking up exercise doesn’t always have to cost you money and you can simply go for a run in your local park. Check if your university offers discounted or free gym memberships that you can take advantage of.

13. Make it More Homely

Moving away to university can be a big change for most people. Chances are you’ve spent large parts of your life in the same home surrounded by the same people. It can be difficult to get to sleep at first in your new environment.

One way around this is to make your room as homely as possible to try and replicate your room back home. This doesn’t have to be a huge DIY project but can be as simple as using your same bed sheets, pictures around the room or posters.

University dorm rooms can be quite bland and plain so it’s up to you to make it homelier which will make you feel more comfortable so you fall asleep quicker.

14. Manage the Smell

If you’ve spent most of your life living with your parents, then it’s unlikely that you’ve full responsibility for the household chores such as cleaning and laundry.

This can result in some strange odours developing in your room. You need to make sure that you consistently clean your room and can cleaning products on hand.

Bad smells can make it difficult to sleep so keeping the place clean and tidy will keep you more relaxed and ready to fall asleep at your chosen bedtime.

15. Temperature

The right temperature will help you relax and fall asleep quicker. Most people have a better sleeping experience in a cooler room but it’s important to ensure that you keep your room at the temperature that suits you.

If it’s too hot then you may need to buy a fan to keep the air circulating and if it’s too cold then you’ll either need to turn the temperature up or purchase an electric heater.

16. Monitor Sleep with Tracker

With technological advances, you’re now able to track your sleep using a range of devices including sleep tracking watches. You simply wear these watches to bed and it tracks numerous stats about your night’s sleep including total sleep time, REM sleep and any disturbances throughout the night.

This will allow you to quickly see if you’re getting enough sleep, and if you aren’t it may inform you of any consistent patterns.

For example, you may be getting woken up every night at 3 am so you will be able to identify if anything happens in your environment at that time such as a noisy industrial van driving past.

17. Avoid Oversleeping

Even though under sleeping can cause havoc with your body, oversleeping can also cause problems. Oversleeping can cause people to experience sleepiness throughout the day leading to feeling symptoms related to low energy, memory and anxiety.

The amount of sleep you need will vary depending on your age and change over the course of your life. You should try to avoid sleeping for more than 9 hours each night whilst finding the right balance.


Sleep Can Always Be Improved

If you’ve made it this far, then you know how important sleep is for college performance, and you can achieve this without it negatively affecting your work, grades or social life.

If you can implement just a fraction of the tips in this article then you’ll be on your way to getting a better nights sleep.

All you need to do is spend a bit of time to organize your day more effectively and committing yourself to a consistent sleep-wake routine. The final step is to consult a medical professional.

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