Why Better Sleep Makes Students Better Students—and How to Help Them Get It
Between classes and homework and jobs and extracurriculars and social events, it’s no wonder more than half of college students aren’t getting enough sleep. In fact, most average between 6 and 6.9 hours per night, below the 7 to 8 hours recommended for adults by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
A good night’s sleep does more than help us feel rested throughout the day; it also improves memory function, decision making, overall health and wellbeing, and—in the case of college students—academic performance.
Now that daylight savings time has ended (maybe for the last time) and brought with it its annual disruption of schedules, it’s an appropriate time to re-evaluate sleep habits, practice good sleep hygiene, and consider ways your campus administration can help students improve theirs.
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene refers to the habits, practices, and environment that contribute to consistent, uninterrupted sleep on a nightly basis. Implementing a sleep schedule, sleeping in a cool, dark room with minimal distractions, practicing healthy daytime habits, and avoiding blue-light stimuli before bedtime are all ways to promote strong sleep hygiene.
While getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night might feel like checking the sleep-hygiene box, it only counts if those are quality hours of sleep. That means minimal nighttime waking and absolutely no 3 a.m. phone scrolling.
Why is good sleep hygiene important?
Quality sleep has huge benefits, both for mental and physical health as well as overall quality of life. People who get enough quality sleep every night get sick less often and are more likely to maintain a healthy weight. For college students, this means less missed classes, less visits to the campus health center, and more motivation to hit up fitness centers and make healthy choices at dining halls.
Quality sleep can also improve mood, creativity, memory, and focus, all factors that help students thrive in and out of the classroom. Mental health, too, is impacted by sleep. Poor sleep can lead to increased worrying, anxiety, and stress, things many college students already struggle with. Not getting enough sleep compounds these barriers, worsening their severity and leading to even more sleepless nights.
How does sleep affect academic performance?
Studies indicate that getting enough sleep leads to better overall academic performance and daytime functioning. Simply put, sleeping well makes students better students. Grades in classes such as math, reading, and writing are especially impacted by sleep deprivation. And though some students believe cramming for an exam makes them more likely to ace it, that is not the case. Students who pull “all-nighters” to complete assignments or study are more likely to have a lower GPA than students who prioritize sleep. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, “the best way to maximize performance on final exams is to both study and get a good night of sleep.”
How can students improve their sleep hygiene?
Like with any other healthy habit, the best way to achieve quality sleep every night is to establish a routine that makes it feel like second nature. This includes setting and keeping a consistent bedtime, as well as doing (and avoiding) the same things before bed every night. For example, putting on pajamas and taking care of personal hygiene at the same time every night can alert the body it’s time for bed. A wind-down routine, like reading, doing light yoga, or meditating for 30 minutes before lights-out, sends a similar signal to the brain and helps create a calm mindset conducive to sleep.
It’s also important to unplug for 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. This means no TV, cell phones, tablets, or laptops, which stimulate brain activity and produce melatonin-reducing blue light.
Practicing other healthy habits throughout the day can also contribute to better sleep. Regular exercise and eating a healthy diet are linked to better sleep quality, as is reducing alcohol and caffeine consumption. Simply soaking up some sunlight every day is enough to boost circadian rhythms and encourage nighttime sleepiness. Students who get outside every day, stay active, and prioritize health and fitness are more likely to log their zzz’s and see improvements in not only academics but also in their overall wellbeing.
How can your school administration help students achieve better sleep?
College campuses around the nation are combating student sleep deprivation in thoughtful, creative ways. Health education staff at the University of Minnesota Duluth, for example, launched campus-wide initiatives aimed at helping students achieve better sleep. They organized surveys, published useful tips, and researched how homework deadlines might be contributing to students’ late nights.
The University of Akron made catching up on sleep convenient by installing nap pods in various locations on campus so students could catch 20 minutes of shut-eye between classes without trekking back to their dorms or houses.
You might consider hosting a sleep-themed event, like UCLA did in 2016, to educate and engage students on the importance of good sleep hygiene and how to implement positive strategies to improve theirs.
Encouraging students to improve their sleep habits and prioritize their health can have a meaningful impact on not only their academic success, but also on their overall wellbeing and happiness on campus. An experienced partner like HORAN Campus Health can help your team develop strategies for promoting good sleep hygiene and helping your students thrive.
At HORAN Campus Health, we champion bold innovations and offer customized health plans, resources, and tools designed to improve the overall health and wellbeing of your students. Together, we can offer the holistic support students need to thrive on campus and succeed in life.
Do you need help developing and executing a strategy to improve student health and wellness on your campus? Visit our Campus Health webpage to fill out a simple contact form or get in touch with Chris Mihin, HORAN Campus Health Vice President and Managing Principal, at ChrisM@horanassoc.com or 513-702-3707.