Student sleeping at his desk on a pile of textbooksWith increasingly busy schedules, sleep may be the last thing on our minds as we try to make time for studying, socializing, internships, work and extracurricular activities. However, sleep is crucial for our health and happiness.

Why is sleep important?

Getting adequate sleep (7-9 hours each night) can help improve our mental and physical health, reduce stress and improve our memory. Sleep also plays a key role in our ability to learn and retain and can impact our mood and energy levels throughout the day.

Here are five ways that you can improve your sleep for a healthy, happy and successful semester.

1: Start with your environment

Set yourself up for success when it comes to restful sleep. One way to get started is to modify your environment: 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.

2: Avoid caffeine and exercise at night

What you do during the day plays a role in how well you sleep at night. 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. Exercise has 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.

3:  Shut down an hour before bed

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 fall asleep more quickly. The blue light emitted from your phone and computer can interrupt your body’s natural ability to produce melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. Overexposure to blue light can make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.

4: Create a nightly routine

Creating a nightly routine that helps you relax and prepare for sleep can also help. Try to do a relaxing activity every night before bed—stretching, taking a shower or 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.  

5: Utilize resources

If you’re still facing sleep difficulties, it may be beneficial to try out free apps like CBT-i Coach to track your 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 to help if your sleep issues persist.

Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) offers a free Healthy Living virtual workshop on Wednesdays from 12 to 1 p.m. This weekly workshop is offered in collaboration with Wardenburg and will cover topics related to general health and wellness. Topics covered will vary on a weekly basis, but will include: body image, nutrition/eating, physical activity, sleep, general self-care and stress management. Sign up through your MyCUHealth Portal. 

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