Published: Nov. 8, 2019

Guy staring at phone screen in bed

If you’ve experienced late nights and early mornings, feeling tired can seem like just another part of the college experience. But sleep is vital to our overall health—research shows that getting 7-9 hours of sleep every night makes a big difference for our mood, metabolism, memory, immune system and more. So how do you balance sleep with all of life’s demands?

What you do during the day matters

What you do during the day plays a role in how well you sleep at night. For example, caffeine can stay in your system for about eight hours, so it’s best to finish your last cup of coffee in the early afternoon. If you’re craving an afternoon pick-me-up, opt for decaf or find an alternative like flavored waters.

Exercise can have a similar effect: adrenaline from a good workout increases your alertness, which is great, unless you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep. Try to finish your workout at least three hours before bed in order to give your body time to unwind. If you need to move your body, consider stretching or follow a relaxing yoga routine.

Finally, try to reduce the amount of time you spend on your devices before bed. Setting down your phone (or putting it into night mode) at least one hour before you plan to go to bed can help you avoid a restless night. The blue light emitted from your phone and computer can interrupt your body’s natural ability to produce melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. Putting your phone on ‘do not disturb’ during the night can also prevent sleep disruption from late night notifications.

Set yourself up for success

Set yourself up for success when it comes to restful sleep. Your room is a good place to start: only use your bed for relaxing and resting, adjust your room temperature to keep things cool, try a fan or a white noise app to minimize any distracting sounds and make sure the room is dark so your internal clock knows that it’s bedtime.

It can also help to have a bedtime routine. Try to do a relaxing activity every night before bed—stretch, take a shower or try a meditation app (we like Insight Timer)—to let your body know that it’s time to wind down.

If you’ve been lying in bed for twenty minutes after one of these activities and still can’t sleep, don’t worry. Sometimes your system needs additional cues to settle in. When this happens, it’s time to get up, do a low-key activity (like reading a book) for another twenty minutes and then try going to bed again. Don’t force yourself to lie in bed until you fall asleep—this can actually increase stress and make it harder to fall asleep.  

What to do if you still can’t get to sleep

Many students facing sleep difficulties can benefit from using free apps like CBT-i Coach to track their sleep. These kinds of apps can help you develop better sleep habits, improve your sleep environment and learn techniques to alleviate insomnia. CU Boulder also has resources on campus to help if your sleep issues persist.

Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) offers free Sleep Skill workshops throughout the semester. This workshop provides tips and tools to help you identify why your thoughts are keeping you awake, how to quiet them and how to develop better sleep habits. You can visit CAPS in C4C N352 or call 303-492-2277 to sign up.

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