How College Students Can Battle Insomnia During Uncertain Times

It’s not news to anyone that we are living in extremely uncertain times. From a pandemic that’s turned our world upside down, closing schools and forcing us to stay home alone, to the social discord that has rocked the entire nation, anxiety is at an all time high. It’s not a big surprised that insomnia is running rampant in everyone, including college students.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, take hope. There are steps you can take to get some shut-eye, and the first one is determining what’s keeping you up at night.

female college student sleeping with phone next to her

Photo by @adamkuylenstierna via Twenty20

Coronavirus worries that make it hard to sleep at night

Money issues

Most students weren’t able to work this summer due to the novel coronavirus. If you’re experiencing anxiety due to money worries, try doing something concrete. Set a budget, and find ways to cut back on spending. If you are bringing in some money, open a savings account. Having a safety net will make you feel more secure, reduce anxiety, and hopefully allow you to get better sleep.

Getting a job after graduation

It’s important that graduates know that industries are still hiring and some are hiring like crazy, like national retailers, online communications companies, and across the healthcare sector. 

If you’re concerned that the companies you hoped to work for aren’t hiring, try applying for jobs outside of your target industries. While the entry job you land might not be exactly what you want to do, it will still get you valuable experience to put on your resume.  You can use this to land another job later on once the new normal is adapted.

 A loved one getting infected

Many college students are worried that their parents or grandparents might become infected with the COVID-19 virus. The best you can do to keep your loved ones healthy is to encourage them to follow the current recommendations by the CDC. These include washing your hands often, avoiding close contact with other people, and wearing masks when out in public. Offer to go to the store for them and run any errands they might need to be done. 

For older relatives you don’t live with, check in with them. A quick call or video chat a couple of times a week can relieve their loneliness and boredom, and reassure you that they’re okay.

Getting sick yourself

If you think every cough is a symptom of the coronavirus, remember college students have a definite advantage here: their age. The coronavirus usually affects middle-age and older adults as well as people who already have underlying serious health problems. If you’re a healthy teen or twenty-something, continue practicing recommended prevention measures and don’t worry too much.

Let healthcare professionals put the risk into perspective, to help keep your stress levels manageable. For example, the CDC reported patient outcomes in March, saying people over 65, especially those with underlying illness, accounted for 80% of the deaths. One the other hand, less than one percent of infected people between the ages of 20-54 died. 

Social distancing is hard and you miss your friends

The loss of your social life in addition to being forced to take classes online has got many college students feeling depressed, lonely, and frustrated. There’s no clear end in sight, with many colleges continuing online learning into the fall. Online chats and games are great, but certainly don’t take the place of a night out with friends.

All of those emotions can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep.

Try to keep your attitude as positive as possible. Go outside and get some exercise daily. With restrictions already easing in many locations across the country, isolation may be less severe than it has been. If you’re heading out for a meal with one friend or a few, choose a restaurant that’s enforcing good social distancing practices. Look for outdoor patios and staggered seating.

How to develop good sleep habits

Once you’ve reduced anxiety levels a bit, or at least identified the triggers, the next way to battle insomnia as a college student is to develop good sleep habits.

Here are some healthy sleep tips:

Keep a regular sleep schedule

girl holding tea and reading in bed

Photo by @JulieK via Twenty20

This means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, regardless of your school and schedules or if it’s the weekend. A routine helps your body’s natural circadian rhythm, which regulates your internal sleep-wake cycle. If you are really having trouble getting out of bed in the morning, you may find an ejector bed useful.

Eliminate stimulants and depressants

This means ridding mood-altering substances like alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine from your diet and lifestyle. These can wreak havoc on your circadian rhythm, keeping you awake when you should be sleeping and making you want to sleep when you should be awake.

Be active and exercise

Exercise is good for you in more ways than one. It reduces anxiety and tires you out naturally, making it easier to form good sleeping habits. If you can get some of your exercise outside, do it. Fresh air and sunshine help improve your mood, and that feeling of well-being might make it easier to nod off. 

More >> Workouts you can do anywhere with no equipment

Keep your bed strictly for sleeping

college man doing homework in his bed with coffee

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This is probably the most obvious reason why insomnia is so common in college students. Living in a dorm room means a lack of space and an inability to separate work and sleep.

But a great way to resolve this is by seeing your bed as a place to sleep. If your brain thinks the bed is a place for watching TV, scrolling through your phone, doing homework or snacking, you might be more inclined to do that than to get a good night’s rest. By minimizing distractions you can signal to your brain when it’s time to shut down.

Don’t pig out right before bed

You know that drinking a lot right before bed will have visiting the bathroom multiple times that night. You may not be aware that eating right before bed can keep you awake too. A full stomach can result in indigestion or acid reflux, making you too uncomfortable to doze off. Also, certain foods (such as those high in sugar) are more likely to wire your brain and make it much harder to fall asleep.

Try to stop eating 2-3 hours before you plan on falling asleep to ensure your body is given the maximum amount of time to digest. This will let your body do its thing while you’re sleeping and wake up feeling refreshed.

Zen before bed

One of the main reasons people can’t get to sleep is because of the amount of stress and worrying they do. Your body and brain need a transition period to relax before bed. You can reduce anxiety through exercise, journaling, or meditation — or even by petting your dog! Try to clear your mind before hitting the hay.

If you like listening to music before bed, try rhythms that mimic the average resting heart rate (about 70 beats per minute). Classical music tends to do this, and is often used by music therapists who have found that heart muscles synchronize to the beat of the music.

Reduce blue light

girl on phone in bed

Photo by @natalie4160 via Twenty20

Blue light typically comes from electronics. College students are on their computers and phones throughout the day, which can result in poor quality sleep. If you’re struggling, consider getting yourself a pair of blue light blocking glasses. They filter out blue light and might make it easier for you to get a good night’s rest.

There are plenty of resources online that might help with how to get more (and better) sleep, including these insomnia-related blogs:

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