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Learn to Sleep Well to Study Well: A Guide for College Students

The college years can be one of the most hectic time periods for young people. Not only do college students have significant academic demands on their time due to class schedules and assignments, but they also often have social engagements, extracurricular activities, and/or employment to juggle. It’s common for students to short-change themselves on sleep while trying to make time for their full schedules. Although getting fewer hours of sleep is typical for students, this can be a mistake. Sleep deprivation can have a profoundly negative impact on cognitive processes, memory, attention, and focus. Thus, not getting enough sleep can make it difficult to learn and succeed in college.

Connections in the brain do not function correctly when sleep deprivation occurs. Recalling information and facts becomes difficult, and learning new information is harder. People have problems focusing and paying attention when they don’t get enough sleep. It’s also harder to think creatively and abstractly when you have not gotten sufficient sleep. Many people also experience issues with mood and motivation when they are sleep-deprived, and judgment may also suffer. Irritability is common due to sleep deprivation. Physical health issues may also occur, such as an impaired immune system and increased risk of type 2 diabetes or heart disease.

When people sleep, the body repairs itself physically. The immune system becomes stronger, muscles replenish and grow, and metabolism moves at a healthy rate. Neurons in the brain synchronize themselves into a sustained rhythm during sleep. In the rapid eye movement stage of sleep, also called REM sleep, the brain processes data that it took in the day before. Old memories are cataloged and stored away so that new information can be processed by the brain in the upcoming day. Synapses fire in specific patterns to solidify information learned. If you don’t get sufficient REM sleep during the night after you learn something, your brain doesn’t have enough time to purge old data and solidify the information learned. REM sleep happens later in the sleep stages during the night, so if you don’t get enough sleep, your body won’t enter the REM stage or spend enough time in it and these vital processes won’t happen.

Shortened sleep times and erratic sleeping and waking schedules can lead to chronic sleep deprivation. Poor school performance and physical health are two results of diminished sleep quality and time. With effort, students may take steps to improve their sleep, though. Whenever possible, students should strive to get at least seven hours of sleep at night. It’s best to create a consistent sleeping and waking schedule that you follow every day, even on days when you don’t have to get up early. This consistent sleeping schedule helps train your body. Limit naps whenever possible, never sleeping after 3 p.m. or for more than one hour. Limiting caffeine in the afternoon and evening and avoiding large meals in the evening should also help you sleep. Many people find it helpful to wind down during the hour immediately before bedtime. Dimming the lights and relaxing away from electronics and screens for at least 30 minutes can help prepare the body and mind for sleep.

Because college is filled with new experiences, adequate sleep is essential. Learning new tasks and information requires that the brain be well-rested so it can process this data. Your brain consolidates your new skills while you sleep and processes information to create new connections that enable you to recall and remember this data. Instituting positive sleep habits is of vital importance to anyone who wants to succeed, whether in college or beyond in a professional career.

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