A Student’s Guide to Getting Better Sleep (Even During Finals)

All through the school year, and especially during finals week, students struggle to prioritize rest against the pressure to study. Despite the common perception that all-nighters are a necessary evil of student life, the reality is that adequate sleep is crucial for optimal brain function and overall health.

So, how can you balance the demands of your studies with the need for quality sleep? Here are some practical tips for better sleep habits

Understand the Importance of Sleep

Recognizing the importance of quality sleep is the first step toward prioritizing it in your routine. Not only does sleep play a vital role in brain function, concentration and health (all important during finals week), but it’s also the time your brain uses to consolidate what you’ve learned during your study session. So, sacrificing sleep hours for extra study time can actually be counterproductive. 

In short, to perform at your best, both physically and mentally, you need a good night’s sleep. Remember, sleep isn’t the enemy of study, but rather, its partner.

Establish a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Create a regular sleep schedule and strive to stick to it, even during finals. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night and set a consistent bedtime and wake-up time. This routine helps regulate your body’s internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up naturally. Do your best to maintain this routine throughout your weekends, and set a firm out time for your study sessions. 

Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment

While challenging in the dorms, do your best to design a sleeping environment that promotes restful sleep. Try to keep your room cool, quiet and dark, and consider using earplugs, eye masks or white noise machines to block out any distractions. Additionally, don’t work or study in your bed. This helps your brain associate that space with rest, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Develop a Wind-Down Routine

Having a regular routine before bed can signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep. Start unwinding at least 30 minutes before your desired bedtime. Limit screen time, dim the lights, take a warm shower, journal or listen to relaxing music. It’s especially helpful to maintain this routine during finals week, as you’ll help bring down your cortisol levels before hitting the hay. 

Limit Caffeine

While you’ll likely be compelled to fuel yourself with caffeine during finals week, it’s important to remember that caffeine can stay in your system for up to eight hours.  Make sure to cut yourself off at least six hours before bed. This means no coffee, soda or energy drinks after 4pm if you want to be asleep by ten. Keep yourself hydrated and take walks to boost your energy levels without harming your sleep.

Avoid Blue Light

Blue light emitted from phones, laptops and TV screens can disrupt your circadian rhythm and delay the release of sleep-inducing hormones. Try to power down electronics at least an hour before bed. Use apps that tint your screen orange instead of blue at night (or schedule your device’s screen to night mode if available).

Nap Strategically

There’s no reason to pull an all-nighter to study, just as it’s unnecessary to charge through the day studying intensely with no breaks whatsoever. Short, 20–30 minute “power naps” can improve alertness when studying. Avoid napping too late in the day, however. Later naps can disrupt nighttime sleep. Instead, nap early and keep it under 30 minutes to avoid feeling groggy. 

Limit Heavy Meals

Eating a big meal too close to bedtime can disturb your sleep, so have dinner at least two to three hours before heading to bed. When studying at a dining hall or restaurant, stick to light fare and water. If you wake up during the night, do your best to avoid the temptation of midnight snacks, as this can signal to your body that it’s time to start the day.

Sleep Easy and Ace Those Finals 

Focusing on small and sustainable adjustments, you build healthy sleep habits which will benefit you all semester. By establishing better sleep routines and habits now, you can get the rest you need to think clearly, remember information and perform your best on your exams. 

If your struggle with sleep extends beyond your course load, you may need extra support. Make an appointment today with one of our experienced sleep specialists. Whitney Sleep offers overnight sleep studies and other evaluatory services to track your sleep patterns and help you sleep better. Schedule an appointment today.