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Tips for Getting a Better Sleep in College

by Irene Chung

Leading a healthy lifestyle consists not only of a balanced diet and regular exercise but also of an adequate amount of sleep. Sleep is essential because it affects daily functioning, mood, academic performance and even appetite. In fact, inadequate sleep could even lead to weight gain.

Dr. Joan Salge Blake, a nutrition sciences professor at Boston University, explained in an interview that an insufficient amount of sleep will affect the regulation of our hunger hormones.

“When you're tired, you are more likely to have a hormone called ghrelin that goes off and makes you more hungry,” Dr. Blake said. “The brain can't operate efficiently by going through chronic sleep deprivation.”

College students often feel fatigued during the day because they pull either an all-nighter studying for exams or consume too much caffeine and energy drinks during the day.

“One time this semester, I drank an energy drink early in the day and I was shaking the whole day,” Jamie Volosin (CAS ’21) said in an interview. “I couldn't fall asleep that night because my heart was going so fast.”

While not enough sleep may affect daily performance, fatigue also comes from the lower quality of sleep during the night despite adequate hours of sleep. Fortunately, there are plenty of tips for college students to improve their sleep.

The first tip for better sleep is to quit screen activity about one hour before going to bed. Using electronic screen devices near bedtime is associated with diminished sleep quality, longer sleep onset latency, sleep disruption and an increased chance of daytime tiredness. However, most college students are involved in screen activities before going to bed.

“Sometimes I am watching movies and then just fall asleep with the video playing,” Kelly Chang (SAR ’23) said. “I think that's really bad because I wake up during the night and see my screen still on.”

Aside from changing night routines before bed, it is also important to manage time during the day in order to allow at least seven hours of sleep a day. To have better time management skills, it is beneficial to evaluate how time is spent during the day. Do you spend time checking on social media and replying to messages while studying? Do you spend time chatting while working out at the gym? Do you spend too much time watching Netflix after meals or spend much time online shopping? It is important to know which stage you are currently at and then adjust your habits gradually.

“You need to better manage your time and your daily schedule to allow your body to get adequate sleep,” Dr. Salge Blake said. “And that is going to pay off like a ridiculous amount, more than any supplements could ever pay you back.”

To manage time better, Google Calendar or journaling can provide a sense of how to divide time among different tasks and be mindful during every moment in life. Try to also avoid multitasking because it may compromise productivity and learning quality.

However, being productive does not mean eliminating rest during the day, and studies have shown that short, quality naps can improve memory, mood and later performance. It can be useful to put short breaks in a daily schedule and rest moderately to boost long-term productivity.

Some people may find it difficult to fall asleep, as they cannot stop thinking and processing information. For this symptom, meditation may help relax and prepare the mind for the sleeping mode. Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation is linked to better sleep quality because it reduces anxiety, stress and regulates sleep-related hormones, including melatonin and serotonin.

Moreover, it is important to create a restful and calm sleep environment before going to bed. Several studies have shown that light affects the operation of circadian rhythm within the body, so keeping the bedroom dim one hour before going to bed and eliminating all light sources, including cell phone screens, could improve overall sleep quality. The range from 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal sleeping temperature, and choosing comfortable clothes is also important for getting a night of better sleep.

For many college students, the last thing they do before bed is primarily laptop or screen activity, either watching television or working on their academic assignments. However, exposure to blue light can also negatively affect sleep quality.

“Sometimes I wear blue light glasses because I know blue light makes your body produce less melatonin. So I wear that before I go to sleep when I'm using my laptop or my phone, and I think it helps a little bit,” said Fandy Wu (SAR ’22).

Some college students may still confront much stress while studying or working late at night. Often, stress-eating behavior sneaks in when students are losing control over their tasks. As for stress-management, Dr. Salge Blake reminded students to find another way to release stress other than eating. There are also lots of stress-management resources and academic advising services on campus to guide students out of the vicious cycle of stress-eating.

“After eating, you're back with two problems: the original stress and all the calories you just ate from stress-eating, and that's not a positive mechanism for managing stress,” said Dr. Salge Blake. “What you need to do to manage stress is get better sleep, do better pre-planning and organize your day.”

However, eating at night should not be completely banned. As some people would be concerned about weight-gain when eating before bed, some studies show that eating in moderation before bed may assist weight loss because it helps prevent nighttime snacking habits that usually happen after going to bed, stabilize blood glucose level and improve sleep quality.

When it comes to food choice for better sleep quality, some essential nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and potassium can reduce sleep disruption and increase sleep efficiency. Some studies also suggest that getting these nutrients from foods may be a better option than from supplements since the body can also absorb other nutrients. For example, good sources of potassium include walnuts, almonds, kiwi, tart cherry and avocado. Also, it is good to combine carbohydrates with moderate fat and proteins to make the body feel more satisfied. Some beneficial protein sources include fatty fish such as salmon and turkey. Remember to avoid added sugar products before going to bed because sugar is associated with lighter, disrupted sleep.

However, Dr. Salge Blake also conveyed the idea that getting sufficient, quality sleep has more to do with lifestyle. Taking supplements and consuming food cannot effectively address the root issues of why you cannot sleep well.

“The most important thing when it comes to sleep is getting into a routine,” Dr. Blake said. “So, you have to change your lifestyle to see your body with adequate sleep. There's no shortcuts to this.”

It is important to get seven hours of sleep per day for better mood regulation, body functioning and academic performance. Nonetheless, that amount of sleep seems unachievable to many college students. For a new semester, it is good to implement more efficient time management by utilizing day time and cutting down screen time during the night. Even within a busy schedule, it’s important to remember the importance of self-care.

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