Remember the days when afternoon naps and an early bedtime felt like punishment? Oh, how times have changed. These days, between crack-of-dawn alarms and late-night study sessions, chances are you’d gladly skip final period for a snooze—and you could probably really use one. According to a recent Student Health 101 survey, nearly a quarter of students say they constantly feel tired. Unfortunately, your schedule isn’t doing you any favors: The majority of schools begin class before 8 a.m., but most students are hitting the hay way past 11 p.m., which makes it difficult to get the recommended 8–10 hours of sleep a night.
What students say
“I’m not motivated to get more sleep during the school year. I want to, but it’s impossible with extracurricular activities and homework—and I don’t even have a job this year.”
—Diane, senior, Boston, Massachusetts
“I stay up and watch Netflix or play video games after doing my homework because I don’t want to feel like I spent my entire night just doing work. But then I end up exhausted the next day and too tired to do anything.”
—Tim, senior, Burlington, Vermont
What a sleep expert says
“Many teens find it difficult to fall asleep in time to get enough sleep, especially if school starts early and/or a long commute requires waking up very early,” says Dr. Mary Carskadon, a sleep expert in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. “This problem is made worse because teens can experience a phase delay of their circadian rhythms [your body’s internal clock], which pushes the timing of sleep, so they’re not ready for bed until later.”
Why sleep matters
You might think you’re doing what’s necessary when you stay up doing schoolwork, but the truth is that your late-night study sessions could be hindering more than helping.
Not getting enough sleep can:
- Make it harder to solve basic problems in class and on exams
- Cause you to forget things (like your bestie’s birthday)
- Make you irritable or unhappy
- Spike cravings for junk foods and sugar
- Weaken your immune system
- Leave you too weak to exercise
- Worsen acne
Convinced yet? Aside from the consequences of sleep deprivation, there are some pretty sweet benefits to getting enough. Here are a few of the perks:
- Increased energy and stamina (aka longer Pokémon Go sessions)
- Decreased stress
- Better mood regulation
- Proper body repair after workouts (your muscles need sleep too)
- Strengthened immune system for fighting off pesky illnesses
- Increased memory (which can come in handy for exams)
- Improved concentration (which can lead to better grades)
We get it: It might seem impossible to head to bed earlier when you’re already overloaded with to-dos. That’s why we’ve rounded up 10 simple ways to make time for more ZZZs while still getting A’s (or, uh, B’s).
Here are 10 ways to step up your sleep
1. Add and divide
Studying late every night? If you aim to get an extra hour of sleep per weeknight (five hours per week), think about where you can relocate five hours of study time. It sounds like a lot, but chances are that you have some time slots you haven’t accounted for, whether that means free period (study hall) or weekends.
“For carving out time to study, I highly recommend weekend mornings,” says productivity expert Laura Vanderkam. “Yes, you want to sleep in, but if you get up at 9 a.m. and study for three hours on Saturday, and study for three hours on Sunday evening, that’s six hours—but you still have a good long break from studying from noon Saturday to dinner on Sunday. That will help you relax and rejuvenate so you can hit the school week ready to go.”
2. Netflix and snooze
If you’re binging the latest series, stop the show in the middle (before the cliff-hanger) so that you don’t get sucked in. Or if you want to keep TV on while you fall asleep, put on something you’ve seen a million times. Save the new stuff for a Friday or Saturday night, when you can stay up a little later (see #4 below), and maybe invite a friend over to watch with you.
3. Nap (strategically)
If you’re lucky enough to have access to a spot where you can grab a power nap during the early-to-mid afternoon, take advantage (just not too late in the day—napping past 4 p.m. will probably mess with your sleep schedule). Research shows that a 10- to 20-minute nap can boost your alertness and improve cognitive performance. Just be careful not to oversleep, and don’t nap if you’re having trouble falling asleep at night.
4. Keep it consistent
You’ll have an easier time falling asleep and waking up refreshed if you let your body adjust to a set schedule. Try to go to sleep (and wake up) around the same time every day, and if you’re trying to get used to an earlier bedtime, try going to bed 15 minutes earlier every one or two nights. Adjusting your bedtime little by little can make it easier.
5. Power off
You’ve heard this before, and I swear it’s not just something your mom says to get you off the computer: To get a better night’s sleep, put down your tech devices at least an hour before lights-out. The artificial light from your laptop and phone can interfere with your levels of melatonin (a hormone that helps you fall asleep). If you’re antsy, try to find a relaxing bedtime routine to help you wind down.
“I try to unplug all technology before bed. I read a book after I finish my homework.”
—Laura, senior, Concord, Massachusetts
6. Watch what you eat (and drink)
If you’re having sugary drinks or caffeine in the afternoon (or later), you could be throwing off your body’s natural sleep cycle. If you drink coffee, keep it as a morning ritual, and try to cut back on sugary, fried, or hard-to-digest meals (typically fast foods) in the evening, since snacking until you’re too full can keep you awake while your body digests.
“Don’t drink any caffeinated drinks after noon,” says Dr. Jerome Siegel, director of the Center for Sleep Research at UCLA’s Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior. “And never take sleeping pills [unless prescribed by a doctor].” They can cause more problems than they solve, such as dependence, allergic reactions, or behaviors such as eating or driving while sleeping.
7. Stay active
To get good sleep, you should be tired (physically, not just mentally). Try to fit in some movement every day, even if it’s a walk or a quick game of basketball after class. Bonus: The fresh air and sunlight will give you an energy boost to get your homework done (research shows we feel more alert when we’re exposed to natural light).
8. Postpone stress
Do you tuck yourself in just to find your mind racing with thoughts about your next deadline, what you said to your crush today, and what you’re going to do this weekend? Keep a notebook next to your bed and jot down (in a couple words) the things you’ve got to “think out” first thing in the morning. Once you’ve put it on paper, you should find it easier to keep it off your mind.
9. Prep ahead
Scrambling to get out the door in the morning? It might be time to assess your a.m. routine. Make it easier on yourself: On Sunday evenings, pack your school bag and make a loose plan of what you’re going to wear during the week, keeping the pieces at the front of your closet. You can also whip up some make-ahead breakfast recipes to motivate you to get out of bed (and give you energy for the day ahead).
“Getting my clothes and bag ready the night before helps me have easier mornings.”
—Zachary, senior, Boston, Massachusetts
10. Boost sleep quality
There’s no substitute for getting enough sleep—but even if you’re falling short, you can still make sure your shut-eye is the most beneficial it can be. When it’s time for bed, keep your bedroom as dark as possible (shut the blinds and turn off any hallway lights), use earplugs to block out any street noise, and adjust the temperature or use a fan so that it’s a couple degrees lower than the rest of the house (cooler temperatures are favorable for sleeping through the night). The National Sleep Foundation recommends keeping your bedroom temperature at around 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
Jerome Siegel, PhD, director of the Center for Sleep Research at UCLA’s Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior, Los Angeles, California.
Laura Vanderkam, productivity expert and author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, New York City, New York.
Mary Carskadon, PhD, teen sleep expert and professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
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