Student sleeping at his desk on a pile of textbooks.

With increasingly busy schedules, sleep may be the last thing on our minds. However, sleep is crucial for our health and happiness.

Why is sleep important?

Getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night can improve our mental and physical health, reduce stress and improve our memory, which can be vital for classes or exams. Sleep also plays a key role in our ability to learn and retain information, and it can impact our mood and energy levels throughout the day.

Here are seven tips you can follow to improve your sleep.

1. Be consistent

In a perfect world, we would go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Sometimes this can be challenging as our schedules may fluctuate throughout the week or year. Creating a nighttime routine can help. Here’s how to get started:

Ease into it. While it would be nice, our sleep habits don’t change overnight, so it’s important to be realistic about what time you are able to go to bed and wake up. Consider your current sleep schedule and focus on making small changes. For instance, if you usually go to sleep at midnight, it may not be realistic to fall asleep at 10 right away. Instead, try to ease yourself into a new routine over a couple of weeks by going to bed 15 to 20 minutes earlier every few days.

Stick with it (even on weekends). Sticking to a consistent sleep routine is just as important on the weekends as it is on weekdays. Try to create a sleep schedule that works for you throughout the entire week. If this feels challenging, aim to still go to bed within 1 or 2 hours of your normal time. Limiting changes in your sleep habits will help you stay on track and avoid frustrating cycles of over- or undersleeping. 

2. Put your phone away

Try to reduce the amount of time you spend on all of your devices before bed. Putting your phone down at least one hour before you plan to go to bed can help you fall asleep more quickly. If you can’t abandon your phone completely, consider turning off notifications or using night mode. It can also be helpful to charge your phone away from your bed. For instance, instead of keeping your phone on your nightstand, try placing it at the opposite end of your room. This can help you avoid temptations to check your phone throughout the night or use your phone first thing in the morning.

3. Move your workout to earlier in the day

Adrenaline from a good workout increases your alertness, which can be great, unless you’re trying to get to bed on time. Try to finish your workout at least three hours before bed and give your body time to wind down. If you need to move your body, opt for relaxing activities at night, such as meditation, yoga or stretching.

4. Limit your caffeine later in the day

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 or your favorite energy drink in the early afternoon. If you’re craving coffee or tea, opt for decaf options. You’ll still get the same great flavor without sacrificing sleep later on.

5. Adjust your environment

Our bedrooms can have a surprising effect on how much we sleep. You can improve your nightly sleep by making a few simple adjustments, like:

  • Only use your bed for relaxing and resting
  • Adjust your room temperature to a cooler temperature at night
  • Try a fan or a white noise app to minimize distracting sounds
  • Wash your sheets regularly for a more relaxing effect
  • Make sure the room is dark so your internal clock knows that it’s bedtime

6. Find a relaxing routine

Make your sleep routine a habit by doing the same activities each night before bed. This will help your body know it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Your nighttime routine can include a variety of activities from showering or journaling to reading or meditating.

If you find yourself lying in bed for twenty minutes or more after your nightly activities and still can’t sleep, don’t worry. Sometimes your system needs additional cues to settle down. When this happens, it’s time to get up, do a low-key activity (like reading a book) for another 20 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.

7. Connect with resources

There are a number of resources available to help you get a better night sleep and manage related issues, like stress or anxiety. Here are a few to try:

Free apps

If you’re having 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.

Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS)

Join CAPS for a free Healthy Living workshop each week. They’ll cover topics related to general health and wellness, including body image, nutrition/eating, physical activity, sleep, general self-care and stress management. To sign up, visit your MyCUHealth portal.

Peer Wellness Coaching

You can also meet one-on-one with a trained Peer Wellness Coach. They are familiar with a variety of issues college students face every day, including stress, relationships, time management, self-image, sleep, self-care, finances, goal-setting and more.