Ernest Hemingway is said to have once remarked, “I love sleep. My life has a tendency to fall apart when I’m awake.” Whether you have it all together during the day or feel more like Hemingway, we all benefit from healthy sleep habits. Sleep promotes cognition and memory, facilitates learning, recharges our mental and physical batteries, and generally helps us make the most out of our days. With plentiful sleep, we improve our mental and physical health, reduce stress, and maintain the routine that is critical to healthy daily functioning.
Within the busy schedules of college students, sleep is often the first thing to go when trying to squeeze in all of the academic, social, and extracurricular activities that are often part of campus life. And when you’re taking online classes remotely, you may find yourself catching up on asynchronous course content at any hour of day or night while the rest of the household sleeps. This guide discusses why it is important to maintain healthy sleep habits and provides tips and tricks on how to do it!
Sleep plays a critical role in helping our bodies and minds recover and rejuvenate. As a result, sleep contributes to improvements in learning and promotes regulatory functions such as emotional and behavioral control that are important for each and every day. Some examples of physiological and behavioral benefits of sleep include:
The optimal amount of sleep for each person may vary, but generally research suggests 7-9 hours per night for college-aged populations.
As you might guess, most college students do not get the recommended amount of sleep necessary to maximize its benefits. Sleep is particularly important for college students because sufficient sleep has been linked to increases in GPA! Research has found:
Because sleep plays such a crucial role in human functioning, lack of sleep can lead to a number of consequences affecting behavior, memory, emotions, and learning when we are awake. These consequences can include:
In extreme sleep deprivation, consequences can even include mood swings and hallucinations.
When we do not get the sleep we need, our bodies do not forget; we go into sleep debt. Our bodies continue to pay back this debt by trying to get sleep whenever possible, which can result in microsleeps.
Additionally, individuals often use caffeine or others stimulants to stay awake. This not only puts them at risk for the consequences of poor sleep, but also the negative health effects of increased stimulant consumption.
Sleep can be affected by a number of things including how we treat our bodies, what we put in our bodies, and how we interact with our environment:
Although alcohol may help you fall asleep because it is a depressant, it reduces sleep stages II, IV, and REM, which are the restorative sleep stages.
Given what we know about sleep, there are a number of things you can do and avoid to improve your sleep cycle. This list is not exhaustive, but it includes many suggestions that help in falling and staying asleep so you can get the 7-9 hours your body and mind need.
Chervin, R. and Hershner, S. (2014). Causes and consequences of sleepiness among college students. Nature and science of sleep. Doi: 10.2147/NSS.S62907
National sleep foundation recommends new sleep times. (2015). National Sleep Foundation.
Walker, M. (2017). Why we sleep: Unlocking the power of sleep and dreams. New York: Scribner.
Developed and shared by The Learning Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.