It is 1:00 AM on a Thursday night, though you swear the clock actually stopped moving a few hours ago. Seconds fall as heavy as textbooks on your eyelashes. The essay/section of reading/group of math problems you have been assigned are finally completed. All you want to do is close your laptop, crawl into bed, and hibernate until summer again like a strange breed of college bear.
We’ve all been there. Sleep is elusive, valuable, and an indescribably blissful experience in college. But some evenings, despite your exhaustion, despite the all-nighter you pulled two days ago, and despite your determination to become reacquainted with the Sand Man, sleep cannot be found.
Let’s face it: falling asleep in a dorm room is no easy task. Elements that make sleep especially difficult include, but are not limited to: the rave going on next door, your roommate’s marathon telephone conversation, the granite-like materials that make up the standard issue mattresses, the endless buzzing of an emergency text from one of your friends/lovers/family members back home, and of course the stress associated with classes and day-to-day life.
So what can you do when sleep is hard to find and even harder to put into action? Here’s a list of simple tips to convert every restless evening into a sweet trip to Dreamland.
Set ground rules with your roommate early on.
Are you uncomfortable if your roommate’s love interest sleeps over every evening? Is there a time you want to declare “lights out” for the room? Is his or her music/gum chewing habit/telephone conversation keeping you awake? Be sure you point out these irritants out as soon as possible in order to avoid a big blow-up later. An even better solution is to agree on rules and then put them down in writing, so that you both remember and respect the other person’s wishes. RAs are fantastic at helping mediate these kinds of discussions.
Ditch the technology.
I get it. I completely understand that sleeping with your laptop/cell phone/iPhone/pager/personal robot is part of your nightly routine. But it doesn’t help relax your brain to be engaged in these electronics right before bedtime, and it definitely doesn’t help if they make sounds in the night! Try turning everything off an hour before you intend to go to sleep if you can, and pursue quieter activities, such as reading or reviewing notes. And as impossible as it may seem to live without your cell overnight, try turning it off or at least setting it on silent. No matter what the crisis is, you will be better equipped to help your distraught friend the next morning, when you’ve caught forty winks.
Make your bed comfortable.
This seems like a no-brainer, but it is impossible to fully comprehend just how uncomfortable a dorm mattress can be until you’ve tried to spend a night on one. Invest in a high-quality foam pad (mine is three full inches of cloud-like softness!), a mattress cover with padding, a bunch of pillows, some soft sheets, etc. Anything goes, as long as it will help you sleep better—and that includes a teddy bear.
The time for your last cup of coffee isn’t midnight.
Make an effort to cut out caffeine and sweets right before bed. If you need something hot to drink, try decaf coffee or an herbal tea, and limit that handful of M&Ms to a lunchtime dessert.
Consider drowning out the background noise.
There is only so much you can do to find quiet in the bustling, 24/7 riot that is a dorm hallway. Do yourself a favor and buy some earplugs! Or, if you are a music aficionado, fall asleep to some soothing tunes.
Find out your sleep habits.
If you are a night owl or an early bird, it can help to plan your class schedule around your sleep patterns. Don’t take that 8:30 am class if you know you’ll never attend; look for classes later in the evening instead. This also holds true for those who suffer from sleepwalking, nightmares, or sleep-talking. True story: one of my past roommates would consistently sit bolt upright in the middle of the night, shout a string of profanities, and fall back asleep instantly, leaving me shaking with shock and try to heal my shattered eardrums.
Recognize that sleep is important.
There are a limited number of hours in a day, and those quickly get filled with school work, theater, clubs, sports, time with friends, parties, etc. I understand that you are busy! But compromising your health by eliminating or reducing sleep can only hurt you in the end. Take care of your health, and realize when you need a night in.
Last, but not least, know when you need help.
Stress management is a whole different animal in college because for the first time, you are independent and responsible for managing every aspect of your day-to-day life. If you are having trouble coping with stress or with time management, talk to someone. Most colleges offer tutors, counselors, and other resources that are often free of charge! And if you think you are experiencing a medical issue that prevents you from sleeping, consult a doctor. There are many over-the-counter, natural, and prescription sleep aids that may be helpful. ALWAYS CONSULT A DOCTOR BEFORE YOU BEGIN ANY MEDICATIONS.
Wishing you goodnight, and sweet dreams!