Freshman Insomnia: Seven Tips To Get More ZZZ

As September settles in, college freshman are anything but settled. Instead, these students are rollercoastering through major life adjustments, especially those living in dorms or other shared spaces. Extra noises, unsettled sleep patterns, academic adjustments, general anxiety and bedtime social media browsing that skyrockets FOMO*(Fear Of Missing Out) often blend together and create sleepless nights that can trigger a downward spiral of fatigue, trouble concentrating, and poor grades…which leads to anxiety and more difficulty sleeping. What can students do to try and stop this cycle? Start with these seven steps:

  1. CONSISTENT SLEEP (and AWAKE) TIMES- with MWF and T/Th schedules, often students have drastically different sleep and wake times each day, which doesn’t jive with our body’s internal clock. Getting up and going to bed at consistent times (within an hour’s window) will help set your body on a schedule. Create a morning library study period for yourself on later start days that you treat as another class, or commit to an early exercise class.* (Daily aerobic exercise is a wonderful stress reducer, but because of the adrenaline it produces, make sure not to exercise within three hours of your normal bedtime.)
  2. SLEEPING MASK- this is a great way to physically block out light in a shared space. Spend the extra few bucks for one that fits right, is easily washable and comfortable (usually around $15-$20). Side note- keep the mask ON during the night…resist the temptation to check the time. If you can’t cover your eyes, cover the CLOCK/iPhone. Our brains are clever, and can consistently wake us up at the exact time every night if we allow ourselves to look at the clock.
  3. BLOCK the NEW NOISE- like snoring roommates, hallway traffic or loud face-timing neighbors- with a combination of comfortable ear plugs or extra white noise from a portable fan (even if you have A/C).
  4.  GUIDED MEDITATION APP: consider one from Healthline’s “Best Meditation Apps of 2018. (My current favorite is Breethe)”
  5. AROMATHERAPY- for real, dirty laundry, overflowing trash and sweaty bedding don’t add to your state of relaxation. While lighted candles are typically not allowed, plenty of other calming scents ARE allowed- from a spritz of Febreeze to gelatin jars or wall socket plug-in air fresheners, to Pinterest-worthy herbal wreaths or electronic essential oil diffusers. Please do NOT start spraying perfumes/colognes…that aggravates the smelly vortex. Consider tossing dryer sheets into drawers or hampers and commit to emptying the trash every few days and doing laundry at least twice per month.
  6. AVOID SCREENS at least the last hour or two before bed. SERIOUSLY (I see that eye roll!) Numerous studies have confirmed the detrimental affect of blue lights on sleep cycles. Students live on screens both socially and academically, so this is a tough one, but simple modifications include saving your actual book reading or off-screen math assignments for the end of your study evening, and taking your showers at night. And…not playing games or stalking social media as your “relaxation” time when you get in to bed. Quick reminder that when ALL your friends at other universities look like they are having WAY more fun that you are…look at your own posts, and realize you are likely projecting the same image to them. FOMO is quicksand.
  7. GO TO TUTORING. If academic stress is the primary source of your anxiety and subsequent insomnia, do not suffer in silence or wait till you “have” to talk to your professor! Almost everyone is initially overwhelmed by the volume and intensity of college courses, especially if you got in to your “dream” school. Learning to utilize study partners or groups, attending tutoring sessions, and discovering new interactive memorization techniques will help dramatically. Locking yourself in a room “until I finish”, skipping fun activities as you try to force-feed yourself the information will be minimally productive, if at all. Alternating study locations, prioritizing sleep, and taking practice tests will improve your grades. All-nighters do not.

BOTTOM LINE: Successful sleeping in college is not guaranteed with that hefty tuition (even in beautiful new dorms.) As you adjust to university life, try these seven steps to start improving your chances of restful sleep that will recharge your exhausted brain.

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