After enough late nights and early mornings, feeling sleepy can seem like another part of the college experience. But sleep is actually vital to overall health—research shows that getting 7 to 9 hours of restful sleep every night makes a world of difference for cognitive functioning, mood, metabolism, memory, immune system and more. So how can we get our sleep cycle back under control?
Preparing for a restful night
The things we do during the day play a role in how well we sleep at night. For example, caffeine can stay in our systems for eight hours, meaning that if we want to be able to fall asleep for the night we need to finish our last cup of coffee in the early afternoon.
Exercise is a similar situation: the adrenaline from a good workout increases alertness, which is great on its own. Finishing exercise at least three hours before bed then gives our bodies time to unwind from this increased adrenaline, making it easier to fall asleep afterwards.
Last, put away devices (or go on Night Time Mode or use a blue light blocker) at least one hour before you plan to go to sleep. The blue light emitted from our phones and computers can also interrupt our natural ability to produce melatonin, which lets us know it’s time to go to sleep; when we’re overexposed to blue light, our body feels like it has to stay awake much longer than we’d like it to.
Getting in the zone
Setting ourselves up for sleep is key to feeling rested. Start with the immediate environment: only use your bed for relaxing and resting; adjust your room temperature to keep things cool; try a fan or a white noise app to clear any distracting sounds; and make sure the room is dark so your internal clock knows it’s bedtime.
Starting a bedtime routine can also help. Try a relaxing activity every night before bed—like stretching, taking a shower, or meditating along with an app—to cue your nervous system that it’s time to wind down.
If you’ve been lying in bed for 20 minutes after all of this and still can’t sleep, don’t worry. Sometimes our systems need a few more cues that they can calm down. Get up and do something relaxing, like reading a book, for another 20 minutes and then try going to bed again. Don’t force yourself to lie in bed until you fall asleep—this can just increase stress and make it harder to fall asleep.
If sleep difficulties persist
Many students facing sleep difficulties can benefit from using free apps like the Activity and Mood Diary or CBT-i Coach to track their sleep. These apps can help with developing better sleep habits, improving sleep environment, learning techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy and alleviating insomnia. Counseling is also available on campus for chronic sleep concerns that do not improve with time.
All fee-paying CU Boulder students are eligible for up to six free sessions with a mental health professional at Counseling and Psychiatric Services. Find out more online at http://www.colorado.edu/counseling