Freshmen college students have many challenges as they adjust to their new environments, and sleepless nights in dorm rooms can trigger a downward spiral of fatigue, trouble concentrating, and poor grades...which leads to anxiety and more difficulty sleeping. What can students do to try and stop this cycle? Certainly there are multiple causes for insomnia, from roommate noise to seasonal allergies, to homesickness or academic stressors, but here are six basic steps to try first:
- CONSISTENT SLEEP (& WAKE) TIMES- with MWF and T/Th schedules, often students have drastically different sleep and wake times each day, which doesn't jive with our body's internal clock. Getting up and going to bed at consistent times (within an hour's window) will help set your body on a schedule. Create a morning library study period for yourself on later start days that you treat as another class, or commit to an early exercise class.* (Daily aerobic exercise is a wonderful stress reducer, but because of the adrenaline it produces, make sure not to exercise within three hours of your normal bedtime.)
- SLEEPING MASK- this is a great way to physically block out light in a shared space. Spend the extra few bucks for one that fits right, is easily washable and comfortable (usually around $15-$20). Side note- keep the mask ON during the night...resist the temptation to check the time. If you can't cover your eyes, cover the CLOCK. Our brains are clever, and can consistently wake us up at the exact time every night if we allow ourselves to look at the clock.
- BLOCK the NEW NOISE- like snoring roommates, hallway traffic or loud face-timing neighbors- with a combination of comfortable ear plugs or extra white noise from a portable fan (even if you have A/C).
- GUIDED MEDITATION APP: consider one from Healthline's "Best Meditation Apps of 2016"
- AVOID SCREENS at least the last hour or two before bed. Numerous studies have confirmed the detrimental affect of blue lights on sleep cycles. Students live on screens both socially and academically, so this is a tough one, but simple modifications include saving your actual book reading or off-screen math assignments for the end of your study evening, and taking your showers at night. And...not playing games or stalking social media as your "relaxation" time when you get in to bed.
- GO TO TUTORING. If academic stress is the primary source of your anxiety and subsequent insomnia, do not suffer in silence or wait till you "have" to talk to your professor! Almost everyone is initially overwhelmed by the volume and intensity of college courses, especially if you got in to your "dream" school. Learning to utilize study partners or groups, attending tutoring sessions, and discovering new interactive memorization techniques will help dramatically. Locking yourself in a room "until I finish", skipping fun activities as you try to force-feed yourself the information will be minimally productive, if at all. Alternating study locations, prioritizing sleep, and taking practice tests will improve your grades. All-nighters do not.