As a busy college student, I often find it difficult to fall asleep in a timely manner. The time it takes me to fall asleep ranges from 5 minutes (basically before my head hits the pillow) to almost an hour. I think that many different factors play into this: here are the 7 most important ones that I believe you need to consistently stand by.
1. Avoid caffeine after 3pm
It is true that most college students rely on caffeine (soda, coffee, energy drinks, etc.) but I think that we drink it whenever we feel like it, not when we NEED it. For example, I usually have coffee when I wake up in the morning (depending how I feel) and then maybe another cup at 2pm. As my mom has told me many times, drinking coffee in the afternoon will “keep you up all night!” After experimenting enough with coffee, I finally realize that what she is saying is true: on the nights I have difficult falling asleep, it is usually because I’ve drank a coffee around 3 or 4pm.
2. Drink decaffeinated tea/warm milk
Above, I mentioned that you shouldn’t drink caffeinated tea, etc. in the afternoon, but you might want to try drinking decaffeinated tea instead! While you’re winding down and getting ready for bed, try drinking chamomile or a sleepy-time tea. Just a few sips of this may calm you down and prepare your mind and body for sleep. Don’t like tea? This might sound babyish, but consider drinking warm milk.
3. Make a to-do list
Thinking too much? I believe that I sometimes do my best thinking before bed: debriefing the day and briefing myself for the next day. When I start thinking about items on my agenda, I decide to get out of bed and make a quick to-do list, whether it includes mundane things, like doing my laundry, or exciting things, like planning a trip to New Zealand. That way, I can be reminded of the tasks that I need to do right when I wake up. Just write down whatever is on your mind, even if that’s how to get your sleep schedule back on track!
4. Don’t work out after 9pm
Depending on what time you plan on going to bed, you should take note of the time that you do physical activity. You should get your body a few hours to calm itself down before going to bed—physical activity gives you an adrenaline rush, which can definitely prevent normal sleep habits if done too closely to bedtime! It is understandable that it can be very difficult to squeeze in a workout in your busy schedule, but keep this in mind.
5. Use your bed ONLY for sleeping
On college campuses, there are many different places to do your class work—library, academic buildings, common rooms, student centers, etc. I find that it is very difficult to do work in my bed; it is too comfortable and I end up dreaming about things like travel (Where should I take my next tour?!) and NOT what I have to get done for class. If you’re like my roommate and loves doing homework in her bed, then you might not have this problem. If your body identifies your bed as a place to sleep, then it might become easier to fall asleep once you lay down.
6. Keep a consistent schedule
One of my biggest sleep issues is the time difference of waking up on weekday versus weekend mornings. On weekdays, I normally have to wake up around 7am, but on the weekends I allow myself to sleep until 10 or 10:30am. This confuses my body. A lot! On Monday mornings, it becomes much more difficult to wake up. Being conscious of your sleep schedule can really help your mind and body in the future!
7. Try this bedtime calculator
When discussing sleep habits, my friend McKenzie told me about this website: http://www.sleepyti.me/. You can enter the time that you need to wake up in the morning and the site will give you examples of times that you should fall asleep by—it explains your body’s sleep cycles! If you are planning to go to bed at this moment, the site can tell you what time you should set your alarm for.
I am no sleep expert, but I do think that these 7 tips will help you develop a healthier sleep cycle! Try a few of these suggestions and see how your sleep habits improve. If these don’t work, you should think about your specific routines before bed and how they can be altered.