When you were college age, you probably never appreciated the ease with which you could hit the snooze button and grab ten more minutes of sleep or the ability you had to sleep until your alarm clock rang. That is, if you were anything like the members of the Team at Down Etc. Sleep came easy to us, when we got around to it. Times may have changed since we were in college, like the introduction of cell phones and personal computers, but some things have stayed the same, including late nights and prioritizing everything above sleep. That doesn’t mean college students don’t need sleep or that they won’t suffer from lack of it.
Why Sleep Matters when They're in College
As they’re getting ready to go back to college, we suggest you start the conversation by explaining that sleep is not just for old people. As a rule-of-thumb, healthy adults (18 years and older) need at least seven hours of sleep each night. Yes, you’re calling them adults. To get them interested, let them know, without enough quality sleep:
- Their athletic performance can decrease. It’s a cycle: exercise leads to improved sleep and improved sleep makes you more likely to exercise. Chances are greater they’ll want to jump into a game of frisbee, we mean pickleball (showing our ages again), and they’ll play well, if they’ve gotten some sleep.
- Their chances of getting sick and their recovery times increase. Back to schooltime in the fall usually means the kids will be down with colds. It’s even worse when they go to college where they’re also living and, often, sleeping, in close quarters with other kids. Let them know they can reduce their chances of getting sick by getting sleep.
- Their mood, memory, concentration, balance, and sex drive can be negatively affected. They may imagine a series of all-nighters, whether they picture themselves studying or partying. However, they will do better, in class and out, with sufficient sleep. Insufficient sleep can impact short- and long-term memory. The information they’re pounding into their heads will come easier after they’ve slept. Additionally, chronic sleep loss can lead to anxiety and depression. You don’t want anything to exacerbate the initial feeling of homesickness.
- Their risk of obesity increases. You’re going to lose any remaining control you have over their food choices, including what they keep in their dorm rooms and apartments. They’ll have to pick and choose the right foods, which becomes even tougher when they’re surrounded by possibilities that might not have existed at home. You can’t usually find a convenience store stocked with snacks at home, but they’re all too common in and around dorms.
- Everything just seems worse. That’s what our mothers always said, and they were right.
Here are a few suggestions to help them get more and better sleep while they’re on their own. You can give them these tips with the hope they’ll appreciate them one day, although that day might be long in coming and long after their college years. After all, how long did it take you to appreciate them?
1. Caffeine-fueled all-nighters aren’t the answer.
Caffeine can only do so much. Even if caffeine keeps them awake, sleep deprivation leaves their brains exhausted. Lack of sleep can even lead to microsleep, several seconds of falling asleep in the middle of performing a task. This is not what they want to happen during the exam for which they stayed awake all night studying.
2. Put the screens away.
We live on our devices, and they see it, so it’s a bit hypocritical to tell them to stow theirs. Tell them to do it, nonetheless. While they have made our lives easier in many ways, devices have not helped our sleep. The light emitted from cell phones, computers, and TVs can interfere with sleep by suppressing the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you feel tired and ready for sleep. Less melatonin makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. Putting devices down 30 minutes before bedtime will allow for better sleep.
3. You can’t catch up on your sleep on the weekend, but power naps can be useful.
Often, you will hear students say they will catch up on sleep over the weekend, but that doesn’t work. Even if they sleep longer on the weekends, that extra sleep can hurt more than it helps as it will throw off their sleep clock. “Circadian rhythms are the cycles that tell the body when to sleep, wake, and eat—the biological and psychological processes that oscillate in predictable patterns each day.” Believe it or not, the best way to take advantage of circadian rhythms is to go to sleep at the same time every night and to wake up at the same time every morning, even weekends.
Short naps in the early afternoon can be rejuvenating and won’t detract from a full night’s sleep. They should be sure the nap is no more than 30 minutes in length to avoid grogginess upon waking.
4. Create the best sleep environment possible.
This means a room in which they have eliminated distracting lights and noises. Students often share bedrooms in dorms or apartments, so this may be tricky. It may require one of our Eyes Down Eye Masks or ear plugs to tune things out. Keeping the bedroom cool is also recommended, which can be difficult if your student does not control the thermostat.
5. Pick the right bedding (and keep it as clean as possible).
The most important thing for a great night’s sleep is a comfortable and clean place to lie down. If you’re in the process of gathering gear for your student on their way to campus, our one-of-a-kind College Dorm Room Bedding Kit will make their bed something they’ll look forward to sleeping in. The feather bed provides a layer of cushion over the dorm mattress and the mattress pad will protect them from the mattress and the mattress from them, as they will likely do everything from eating to studying on their beds. They are both designed to fit the larger size of most dorm room beds.
The Kit comes with a pillow and zippered pillow protector. While you can hope for them to wash the pillowcase and sheets, it’s unlikely the pillow itself will ever reach the laundry room. The pillow protector just makes sense. Finally, the Kit includes a twin-size down comforter that will give them the look and cozy feel that will make them want to sleep or, at least, lie down.
We wish you and your college students a great night’s sleep!
-The Team at Down Etc