Photo of a girl and her dog sleeping on top of one another on the couch midday.

Our study sessions and exam schedules can impact how well and how long we sleep at night. Whether you’ve found yourself sleeping in later, taking more naps, staying up late or fighting anxious thoughts, irregular sleep habits can negatively impact our lives.

Research shows that sleep is vital for our mental and physical health. In fact, getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night can make a difference in our mood, metabolism, memory, immune function and more. Whether you’re feeling fatigued, restless or both, here are some tips to help you create a better sleep schedule.

If you’re having trouble sleeping

You may find yourself losing sleep or experiencing insomnia. This can be due to anxiety, lack of a consistent routine or changes to your schedule. Here are some tips that can help you get more quality sleep.

 Curb your caffeine.

Caffeine typically stays in your system for about eight hours, so it’s best to finish your last energy drink or cup of coffee by the early afternoon. If you experience cravings later in the day, try to opt for decaf or look for tasty alternatives like sparkling water. You can also check out this article for tips on how to stay awake during the day without caffeine.

 Stay active earlier in the day.

Physical activity can give us an adrenaline boost, which can help us stay alert and motivated throughout the day. However, it can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule if you are working out at night. Try to wrap up your workout at least three hours before you go to bed. If you want to squeeze in some late-night movement, consider more relaxing activities like stretching or yoga. 

 Turn off your screens.

Blue light from electronic devices can interrupt our natural ability to produce melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. You can use built-in features like ‘night mode’ to reduce your screen’s blue light in the evening. When possible, try putting your laptop, phone and other devices away at least one hour before bedtime to help your brain get ready for sleep. Consider putting your phone on ‘do not disturb’ to prevent late-night notifications, which can also impact your sleep with sounds or light, even if you don’t fully wake up.

 Optimize your sleep environment.

Did you know that your bedroom can impact your sleep? Create the ultimate sleep oasis by only using your bed for resting and relaxing, adjusting your room temperature to a cooler setting, using a fan or white noise app to minimize distracting sounds and closing your curtains to make sure your room is dark. You can also use essential oils (like chamomile or lavender) to help your body relax and prepare for bedtime.

 Avoid lying awake.

If you find yourself lying awake in bed for more than twenty minutes, don’t worry. Sometimes our bodies need a little extra help to settle in for the night. When this happens, try getting out of bed to do a low-key activity (like reading a book or stretching). Set a timer and do that activity for about twenty minutes before trying to go to sleep again. Avoid forcing yourself to lay in bed until you fall asleep—this can actually increase stress and make it harder to sleep.

If you’re sleeping more than usual

You may be experiencing hypersomnia if you’re taking frequent naps during the day, having difficulty waking up in the morning, sleeping through your alarm, feeling groggy throughout the day or feeling the urge to sleep more often. Fatigue and increased sleep can be caused by a variety of factors, including boredom or depression. Here are some tips to help you get your sleep schedule back on track.

 Look for patterns.

When are you sleeping? How long are you sleeping? What do you notice about your habits? Look for patterns and try to identify things that may be impacting your sleep. These insights can help you create routines that get you back into a more regular rhythm. For instance, if you find yourself staying up late at night and needing a nap during the day, try to work out a way to get to sleep an hour or two earlier. It can be helpful to take it slow by going to bed 15 to 30 minutes earlier each night until you find a bedtime that works best for you.

 Practice consistency.

Going to bed around the same time each night and getting up around the same time each morning can help you establish a routine. Creating a nighttime routine can help you jumpstart this habit. For instance, you can set an alarm on your phone to remind you it’s time to get ready for bed. When you hear the alarm, start your routine. Take a shower, stretch, read a book or choose another calming activity to help you wind down for the night.

 Moderate caffeine and alcohol.

Drinking too much, too frequently and too close to bedtime can undermine quality sleep. Save caffeinated beverages for the morning or early afternoon and try to avoid using alcohol as a sleep aid. If you experience cravings later in the day, try to opt for decaf or look for tasty alternatives like sparkling water. 

 Don’t deprive yourself.

Running on too little sleep can cause us to overcompensate. Oftentimes, this leads to a cycle of sleep deprivation followed by oversleeping that can take a toll on our physical and mental health. As we get ready for finals, avoid pulling all-nighters or waiting until the last minute to finish assignments. Instead, give yourself plenty of time to break projects into smaller tasks so you can get adequate rest at the end of the day. This will help you retain more information and stay focused. Check out this article for more tips on how to ace your exams without sacrificing sleep.

If you’re still experiencing sleep issues

Changes in sleep patterns can be a side effect and early warning sign of depression. Let your doctor or therapist know if you are not able to sleep or if you are sleeping too much. 

If you think you may be experiencing depression, you can meet with a Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) provider by scheduling an online screening or visiting Let’s Talk drop-in hours.

There are a number of resources available to help you get a better night’s 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.