It's no secret that many college students get far too little sleep. At Cornell, nearly 25% of students surveyed indicate that sleep difficulties are an impediment to their academic performance.
How much is enough?
If you're like many undergraduate students and averaging around 7 hours of sleep a night, you may be surprised to learn you are sleep deprived! In fact, according to current research, most undergraduates need 8.5 – 9.25 hours of sleep (most adults, 7 – 9 hours) in order to avoid daytime drowsiness (inability to concentrate or remember and slowed reaction time), altered mood states (anxiety, irritability and depression), weight gain, poor health and low energy. Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. Your top performance (academic, professional, athletic) depends on adequate sleep.
Knowing that you should be getting more sleep doesn't mean it will come easily. It's understandable that your academic studies, social life, part- or full-time job, and relationships often outrank sleep on your priority list. However, with so much to balance, it is even more important you do what you can to get adequate sleep as often as possible. For some, it is just a matter of trying out a few new techniques and establishing an improved sleeping pattern. For others, who experience sleep trouble even after following the proper guidelines, professional help may be beneficial.
Some solutions to improving sleep
Are you having trouble finding the time to get enough sleep? Are you having trouble falling asleep once your head finally hits the pillow? Try some of the following suggestions on sleep strategies to help increase the amount (and quality) of your sleep:
"Sleep hygiene" is a term applied to practices designed to establish a foundation of a good night's sleep. Adapting these simple lifestyle changes can help prevent a few nights of poor sleep from turning into a longstanding problem.
- Keep a regular bedtime and rising time
- Restrict caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol
- Avoid stimulant drugs that can affect sleep (prescription and non-prescription)
- Exercise regularly, but not right before bedtime
- Avoid having a heaving meal 2-3 hours before bedtime
- Enjoy a short nap
- Save time in bed for sleep (not studying)
- Create a sleeping space that is dark, quiet, comfortable, and cool
- Turn off all electronic device screens (e.g., laptop, TV, etc.) before bedtime
- Establish a "relax and wind down" routine
- Don't dwell on worries and frustrations when trying to sleep; write them down in a notebook, with action statements if needed, and then put the notebook away while you sleep
Just not realistic for every day? Try setting aside a few days per week to do what it takes for you to get enough quality sleep. You'll be surprised at how much even a few nights can help.
When to get professional help
If you have tried all of the above tips and you find an on-going lack of sleep is either preventing you from being successful in your daily life or that your mood or behavior is suffering, it's time to ask for help from a health care provider. Consider preparing for such an appointment by filling out a sleep diary (see sample from the National Sleep Foundation) for a few nights. This will help facilitate a conversation. Clinicians, at Gannett or elsewhere, can work with you to identify underlying causes of sleeplessness and recommend appropriate treatment.
Gannett print resources
- "Let's CU Sleep!" (pdf) offers important sleep tips for hard-working students.
- Posters provide a reminder at the right time and place of the importance of sleep in achieving your personal, and academic best. Dreaming of a 4.0? (pdf) and Catch a Power Nap (pdf).
- "The Sleep Nutrition Connection" (pdf) provides shows how sleep deprivation influences appetite and weight gain.
- Power Sleep is the website of James B. Maas, PhD, Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow and Professor in the Department of Psychology at Cornell University. Dr. Maas is well-known at Cornell for his popular introductory psychology class and his research on the relationship between sleep and performance.
- "Pulling an all-nighter doesn't work because learning requires a good night's sleep." Don't believe it? Check out this article from On Science.
- The National Sleep Foundation offers tips for improving sleep, information about sleep disorders, and many interesting links to other sleep sites.
- SleepNet.com provides "everything you wanted to know about sleep but were too tired to ask," including sleep tips, a "sleep test," and a "snoozeletter."
- DrowsyDriving.Cornell.edu is an informative site that reminds us that driving under the influence of sleep deprivation has a lot in common with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It makes a persuasive case about the importance of adequate sleep and suggests ways to get it.
- The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School posts in informative video entitled "Sleep, Learning, and Memory" (1:52) that makes the case for good sleep both before and after learning occurs. The video is located half-way down the web page.
- Doing research on sleep for yourself or for a paper? The Sleep Well at Stanford maintains a list of recent articles about sleep research.
- Colombia University's "a!Sleep" website includes terrific resources (e.g., a sleep assessment, sleep diary, and e-cards) to help you "enhance your bedtime performance."
- The University of Florida has produced a video about sleep that is tailored to the problems of university students.
"Students who know more about sleep do it better." They get better grades too! Read more about the James Maas sleep study here.