As we enter the “back-to-school” month, most students are facing the overwhelming task of planning their schedules and strategizing how they will accommodate a full load of classes and homework.
But does being an excellent student mean you have to sacrifice your health, including missing out on sound sleep every night?
Study first, sleep later?
Focused study time is one of the most important aspects of successfully working your way through education. At the college level, a general guideline offered by the Department of Education is that students should spend 2-3 hours studying per credit hour taken. For many students who take an average of 15 credit hours per semester, that means a lot of late nights hunched over textbooks in the school library or sprawled out across a dusty dorm room floor.
Although a lack of sleep might be considered a rite of passage for the college experience, it is important that students attempt to establish healthy sleep habits throughout their education in order to improve brain function and overall wellbeing.
Studying in a productive manner requires a great deal of diligence and attention. This can make it challenging to unwind and allow your body and mind to rest, especially if your brain is still processing the information you’ve learned.
Here are a few key strategies that can help you give your brain a break and prepare yourself for sleep.
Let it go
If, after a long study session, your mind feels crowded with information or is still racing with the concepts you’ve learned, try writing down the key points in a notebook or journal, releasing them from your brain.
Allowing yourself to externalize the information in a place that you can reference later can help you feel more secure as you wrap up your study time. Make a to-do list of where to pick up with studying the next day and then allow your mind to rest.
You can also try teaching the information you’ve learned to a friend or classmate. If you can clearly explain the material to someone else, you can trust that your brain has absorbed the information and it won’t be lost after a good night’s sleep.
Treat your body and mind
There’s nothing like a hot shower or bath and cool, clean bedsheets to get your body ready to relax for the night. Your mind often needs cues like these to recognize when it is time to stop processing and rest.
Try creating an enjoyable routine for yourself after studying to help you wind-down. Your routine could include activities like reading a fictional book or even a gentle yoga session to help relieve physical aches from long study sessions.
Your environment can contribute greatly to the quality of sleep you get. After your mind has been active all day, you need the right ambiance to help block out distracting thoughts and calm your nervous system. Avoid looking at screens right before bed and set up your room to be as dark and cool as possible in order to sleep without interruption.
Create your ideal setting by listening to peaceful music, nature sounds, or white noise to help you relax. You may also benefit from visualization techniques like imagining yourself in a serene location while taking long, deep breaths as you let the gears of your brain decelerate.
Be kind and unwind
It may be difficult to fight the mental battle after a long day of applying yourself to learning. Remember to be gentle with your thoughts and consider the efforts you’ve made without judging yourself.
Although it might seem like you will be more successful if you disregard the need for sleep and keep studying, remember that sleep is crucial to your brain to continue working in a healthy capacity. Be patient and allow yourself time to transition from an active, focused state to a place of total relaxation.