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How Being in College Can Disrupt Sleep

From Dorm Life to Friends to New Experiences, Sleep May Suffer if You Let It

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Updated February 19, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

How Being in College Can Disrupt Sleep

University student dozes after class

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

It is an incredible liberating experience to finally leave home and start college, but there are many reasons that just being in college can disrupt your sleep. Whether it is the new flexibility of your schedule, the life in the dorms, a new circle of friends, or other new experiences, your sleep may suffer.

Living in the Dorms

From the first day you move into your new campus home, things change. As you haul box after box into your dormitory room, you start to realize it is a tiny space. Shortly thereafter you recognize that there is a lot that has to be accomplished there.

Not only will you be expected to sleep in that room (most likely with a roommate, perhaps for the first time), you also will have countless other roles for the space. You may have a small workspace to study, but the dorm space may also serve as an impromptu kitchen or even an entertainment room.

Unfortunately you will be unlikely to have a space devoted solely to sleep. According to guidelines for better sleep, you should have a place where you can sleep comfortably. It should be quiet, dark, and cool when you need it to be. Chances are the intrusions of roommates or floor-mates may make this difficult at best. When your sleep space becomes a multipurpose room, the stimulating environment makes it difficult to transition to sleep. In order to counteract this, you should do the best you can to reserve your dorm room solely for sleep.

New Schedule, Variable Demands

Most college students have a variety of demands on their time. As you first start, this can be somewhat overwhelming. Even if you have a light schedule, this flexibility may prove challenging. Aside from your scheduled lectures and study time, many college students are involved in sports, extracurricular activities, or working to pay for the expenses of college. This can introduce unpredictability to your life. Inevitably this extends to your sleep schedule. Ideally you would go to bed and get up at the same time every day. If your schedule varies from one day to the next, you may compromise your sleep to meet these demands.

Moreover, stressful times during the academic year (such as during finals) may prompt you to sacrifice your sleep to study more. You will do better if you resist these temptations and maintain a regular schedule. Good sleep habits can improve your mood, concentration, and general health -- all things that will help you to be more successful in college.

Freedom, Friends May Encroach on Sleep

As a college student, you may have new freedoms that you have never before experienced. For the first time in your life, you may be out from your parents’ house and rules. This can be extremely liberating, but it may also lead to some tough choices.

Part of this freedom will be the ability to choose how you spend your time. No one will be there telling you to eat your vegetables, brush your teeth, or get to bed. If you choose to stay up to 4 a.m. playing video games, no one will say a thing. This can be wonderful, in some ways, but it can also devastate your ability to consistently get a good night’s sleep.

Moreover, the use of caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, or other drugs may impact your ability to sleep well. Many college students elect to experiment some, and you may be unwittingly affecting your sleep.

By its very nature a college campus brings people together with common interests and characteristics. It is easy to meet new people and establish lifelong friendships and bonds. These opportunities for socialization can also present challenges as you need to make sleep a priority or it will surely be encroached upon as you spend your time with friends.

College is a wonderful opportunity in life. By making a few careful choices, you can ensure that your sleep is protected amid the environment and new experiences that you find yourself in. Doing this will ensure a healthy and successful experience.

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