Picture your average college student: Sleep deprived, addicted to coffee and living life waiting for the next nap. But it doesn’t have to be that way— and it shouldn’t. What students may not know is that erratic sleep behavior can lead to lasting harm. While many students would rather choose caffeine over sleep to capitalize on time for their academic and social lives, studies show that this is not a successful exchange. To achieve a good night’s sleep, you need to implement changes to your daily schedule.
Let’s start with some of the things that can impinge upon a proper sleep schedule and how to remedy these issues. Consistent timing is one of the most important aspects of sleeping; you should aim to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Sure it can be tempting to wake up at 9—or even 10—a.m. on the days that you don’t have early classes, but this can actually be hurting your sleep in the long term.
Irregular sleep patterns wreak havoc on your circadian rhythm, the “biological clock” that tells your body when it’s time to be awake or not, resulting in daytime drowsiness and restless sleeping. One sleepless night may not hurt you too much, but it can set an unwanted precedent. Therefore, it’s better to pick a time interval for sleeping and stick to it.
A common trend when it comes to combating tiredness is trying to sleep an exorbitant amount on the weekends to “catch up” on your lack of sleep throughout the week, but this rollercoaster of sleep deprivation and hibernation causes more harm than help.
According to a recent Harvard study, “catching up” on sleep in one or two nights is relatively impossible; you may feel refreshed for the first few hours of the day, but the “sleep debt” that you’ve been amassing will return to leave you drained. This habit can even be dangerous, because it lulls you into a sense of denial about the true extent of your fatigue. But what if you’re already seriously “in debt”?
What can you do now that you can’t just “make up for it” on the weekend? Well, luckily for you, Harvard has an answer for that too: Stop worrying about how much sleep you’ve lost and start focusing on better sleep right now.
Doctors recommend that the average college student get about seven to nine hours of sleep. In a busy week of work, exams, extracurriculars and socialization, you don’t have to try hard to fall short of this estimate.
To ensure that you’re saving enough time for your sleep, it’s imperative that you schedule your time wisely. You don’t need to carry an hourly log of your days and reject all spontaneity, but you should set aside specific time periods for any important commitments and make sure you have some buffer time, too. If you start planning your days, you’ll find that it is much easier to stick to your set bedtime and wake-time. If you do reach that bedtime and still have more work to do, just go to sleep and leave it for tomorrow. Your brain won’t be much use to you if it’s exhausted.
It is also important to minimize the amount of studying that you do in your room, so that your room becomes a set space where your brain knows you can rest. Try to incorporate exercise into your day to energize you and avoid napping if possible. Returning to the topic of caffeine, coffee is not an adequate replacement for sleep. It can get you through one or two late nights, but after three days of little sleep, caffeine loses most of its effect. Also, try not to have caffeinated beverages less than six hours before you plan to sleep.
Sleep raises grades, decreases the likelihood of obesity, improves memory, boosts immunity and enhances mood, among many other benefits. It sounds like a miracle drug, so why wouldn’t you want to make it a priority?
If you practice good time management and set schedules for your sleep and your life, you can fix your poor sleeping habits now, before it’s too late and you find yourself in years of insurmountable debt—sleep debt, that is.
Veronica Eskander is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.