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How Much Sleep Should a College Student Get?

Teenagers need more sleep than adults. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep, while adults 18-60 need 7 hours in a 24-hour period.

A female college student working on her laptop late at night and the text Improving Your Sleep.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults ages 18 to 60 years old need to be getting seven or more hours of sleep every night, while teenagers need up to 18 need 8-10 hours in a 24-hour period.

Aside from studying, writing papers and knocking out required reading, most college students have a lot of additional responsibilities. Transitioning to college can bring a host of challenges. Whether it’s extracurricular activities, family or work, college students have a lot to focus on. For your health and continued academic success you need to be well rested – and that means getting more than just a few hours of sleep when and where you can.

The Importance Of Sleep

Staying up late and pumping yourself full of caffeine to pull an all-night study session or get you through the next day isn’t a good long-term plan for performing well in school. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults ages 18 to 60 years old need to be getting seven or more hours of sleep every night, while teenagers up to 18 need eight to 10 hours in a 24-hour period. Getting a solid eight hours on a weeknight may seem unfeasible for some students, but there are important reasons why your body and brain need you to get the right amount of sleep.

  • Keeping your Circadian rhythm in balance. The Circadian rhythm is caused by the "physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle," explained the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). Affected by light and darkness in your environment, your Circadian rhythm plays a big part in your sleep regulation. In turn, other aspects of your health are affected by any changes. “Circadian rhythms can influence sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, eating habits and digestion, body temperature and other important bodily functions,” the NIGMS said.
  • Reaching your Rapid Eye Movement (REM) cycle. While you sleep, your brain takes new information you’ve learned and transfers it to your long-term memory. The American Psychological Association (APA) said this happens most often during REM around six to eight hours into your sleep cycle. If you want to retain what you’ve been studying for your exam, getting the right amount of sleep will help you reach that REM state and let your brain store that information in your long-term memory so you can recall it later.
  • Being able to function well the next day. Getting a good night’s sleep tonight leaves your mind better prepared for tackling whatever comes your way tomorrow. “Students who work or study long hours may not get enough sleep at night. As a result, they may be sleepy and sluggish during the day and have trouble concentrating, participating in class, taking tests or making decisions,” the CDC said.

How College Students Can Improve Their Sleep

Having good sleep hygiene improves your overall health and your academic performance. You can increase the quality of your sleep by changing some of your daily habits.

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule. Trying to go to sleep around the same time every night helps your Circadian rhythm, and you’re more likely to reach REM sleep. A study published in the journal "Scientific Reports" showed a positive correlation between having a regular sleep schedule and academic performance.
  • Be aware of your daily routines. Exercise and keep yourself moving throughout the day. “Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night,” the CDC said. The CDC also suggests you limit your caffeine intake in the afternoon and evenings and try not to eat a big meal late at night. Drinking less before bed will likely reduce the amount of times you get up in the middle of the night to use the restroom and let you get uninterrupted sleep.
  • Create a healthy sleeping environment. It’s important for the space where you sleep to be uncluttered and comfortable. Remove anything that might distract you from the task at hand – getting rest. Use your bed for sleeping, not studying. Instead of falling asleep at your desk, put the books away and give your brain time to relax before heading to bed. The CDC suggests you keep your room dark and at a cool temperature.
  • Unplug before bed. Light from phones, computers and television can affect how your body perceives night and day. The stimulation from watching a show or scrolling through your social media timeline when you’re in bed can make it more difficult for your body to recognize it’s time to rest. Put away or turn off these devices half an hour before you try to sleep.
  • Quality over quantity. Making sure your body is getting the rest it needs is not just about the hours of sleep you get a night. Though getting the right amount of sleep is important, the CDC points out the quality of the sleep you’re getting makes the biggest impact on your performance. “Signs of poor quality include not feeling rested even after getting enough sleep, repeatedly waking up during the night and experiencing symptoms of sleep disorders,” the CDC said.

Ultimately, how much sleep you need as a college student depends on how well you want to function. To be at the top of your game, take a few steps to ensure you get regular, quality sleep – even if you’re not able to meet the recommended seven or more hours.

Ashley Wallis is an Army veteran and writer with a BA in English Language and Literature from SNHU. She is currently living in the Denver area. Find her on twitter @AshDWallis.

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