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How to actually have sweet dreams in college

February 6, 2023

Getting a quality night’s sleep is important to physical and mental health, but it can be challenging to get the sleep you need while in college. Rachel Sportel, a nurse practitioner at Calvin, met with Chimes to answer some of your biggest questions about sleep. Here’s what we learned.

What is the recommended amount of sleep for people in college? 

Everybody reacts differently. Some people function fine on less amounts of sleep and some people really need more. Typically for a healthy adult eight hours is recommended. When working with students, anywhere between six to eight hours is a good goal. The amount of sleep you get affects a lot of aspects both physically and mentally so you really need a minimum of six in order to remain functioning on a normal, healthy level. To see the most benefits, eight  hours is ideal. 

What does sleep deprivation look and feel like?

Not getting the amount of sleep your body needs can lead to symptoms of increased irritability, anxiety, decreased mood and fatigue. Fatigue often leads to harder times concentrating in class and feeling less motivated. There can also be physical impacts. Good sleep can impact your immune system, so people who are chronically sleep deprived might be more likely to get sick. 

How does your quality and amount of sleep affect classroom performance? 

If you’re not getting enough sleep it can be harder to concentrate in class, which could have a negative impact on grades. 

What are some of the challenges in a college community to getting good sleep? 

The hardest part is balance. It’s such a unique time in life; you’re balancing grades, all the studying that needs to happen, a social life and some students need to be working. That is where prioritizing good sleep while making a schedule can have such an impact. That can be a challenge when your friends are all staying up till 2 a.m. “If your friends are all staying up until 2 a.m., but you have a class at 8 a.m., it can feel hard to prioritize sleep, but it is important,” Sportel said. 

How can students start prioritizing sleep and develop a healthy sleep schedule? 

It’s definitely easier said than done. There is a general list of “sleep hygiene tips” that Sportel recommends.

The first is consistency. The more consistent people can be with a going-to-bed time and a waking-up time, the easier it will be for the body to regulate that schedule. “When the sleep schedule is really erratic, our circadian rhythms don’t know what to expect. It can be harder to fall asleep when you want to, stay asleep and wake up on time” Sportel said. 

I would also recommend a winddown routine for people who have a hard time falling asleep. This involves no screens an hour before bedtime and doing something relaxing. Things like herbal tea, reading a book, low lighting or prayer and meditation can all be really helpful for relaxing the brain and body. Ensuring that the sleep environment is dark and quiet is beneficial as well. 

How do substances affect sleep? Are there any that you recommend? 

When it comes to controlling sleep, it can be hit or miss. Over-the-counter supplements like melatonin can be a great benefit to regulating a sleep cycle. “Here at Calvin, we tend not to prescribe any controlled substance sleep aids. They tend to cause more harm than good,” Sportel told Chimes. 

Illegal drug use and alcohol can also have an effect on sleeping habits. Drug and alcohol use is one of the first things questioned when looking into someone who isn’t sleeping properly. 

Caffeine intake is also a factor. “Caffeine taken anytime after noon has the potential to affect sleep.” Cutting out or limiting caffeine is another way to help improve sleep quality. 

“Sleep varies a lot on a case-by-case basis,” Sportel told Chimes. “We recommend anyone who is struggling with it to stop by Health Services!” 

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