July 26, 2018 1 Comment

Juggling the demands of college life is not easy, and often the first thing to go is sleep. In a recent study, 89% of college reported their sleep was not good. But a lack of sleep lowers our ability to think clearly, stay healthy, and many other important things college students need.

My dear friend Joan is our guest blogger today, and you’ll easily see why I asked her to contribute to our college-bound series. She has almost two decades of experience counseling college students!

I have known Joan for over 17 years. When we moved to Orange City, Iowa, she and her husband Mike were also a part of the Northwestern College faculty and staff, and among of the first people to reach out to us.  Joan is the kind of friend I can be instantly deep and serious with, then minutes later, laugh together hysterically. I admire her depth and tenacity. Joan is a Marriage and Family Therapist -- in fact, she inspired me to become a therapist!  She has also taught me a great deal about social justice and being a voice for the voiceless. Her fingerprints are all over Weighting Comforts, so it’s only fitting you get to hear from her today. I hope her advice helps college students and parents!

- Donna

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To sleep or not to sleep … that is the question…  

For most college students, sleep seems to be optional -- or at least negotiable. There are papers to write, books to read, parties to attend, friendships to form, money to make and experience to gain… all on limited time and high expectations.

Juggling the demands of college life is not easy, and often the first thing to go is sleep.  While most students recognize that sleep is important, many do not appreciate the significance of what is lost when adequate sleep is missed. Read on to discover… how much sleep does a college student need? Why is sleep so important in college?


The Harm of Inadequate Sleep

According to the National Institutes of Health, college students are one of the most sleep-deprived populations.  In fact, a recent study reported that up to 60% of all college students suffer from a poor quality of sleep and 7.7% meet criteria for an insomnia disorder.  In another study, only 11% of students report getting good sleep.  Studies consistently show that more disrupted sleep patterns and/or less hours of sleep per night correlate to:

  • Increased physical illnesses and injury
  • Foggy thinking
  • Low energy
  • Impaired memory
  • Increased struggles with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse

These results indicate a profound impact on the life of students who are in the most defining time in their lives... and they don’t even realize it!

The Importance of Sleep

So what can be done?

The first thing is to raise awareness that sleep is indeed worth fighting for.  Students with the highest GPA tend to get good sleep.  With consistent 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep a night, 7 days a week, students will feel their best.  

They will tend to:

  • Think more clearly
  • Make better decisions
  • Fight off sickness more effectively
  • Be more emotionally stable

When a student gets the sleep he or she needs, not only is body refreshed, but so is the mind.

How to Establish Better Sleeping Habits

The second thing is to implement healthy sleep habits. Here are a few every-day suggestions to help get you started.

  1. Establish a consistent sleep/wake rhythm.  Go to sleep and get up around the same times. It doesn’t matter what time you choose to go to bed and rise. What does matter is going to bed at the same time and rising at the same time every day.
  2. Get 8.5 - 9.5 hours of sleep.  Culturally, 6-7 hours a night is acceptable, but to be fully rested and feel your best, young adults need 8.5 - 9.5 hours of sleep per night.
  3. Create a bedtime routine.  This cues your body and mind that it is time to slow down, relax and sleep. For example, an hour before you intend to go to bed, close down the computer or turn off the phone and prepare to go to bed.  Brush teeth, shower, have a quiet chat with a friend, read a book, have a cup of tea (avoid alcohol or exercise at this time), cuddle under a cozy blanket, listen to some calming music, journal, yoga … whatever you find enjoyable and calming.  Then go to bed in a quiet, dark or low-lit room.
  4. Get outside.  Fresh air and time outside every day will help preserve sleep and wake cycles. Walk to class, sit in the sun, study outside, maybe even get a job outdoors.
  5. Eat regularly.  You can schedule around class and friends’ availability, but be sure to eat 3-5 small meals a day.  Avoid caffeine after 3:00 pm and avoid heavy meals before bedtime.
  6. Be physically active.  Not only does exercise help regulate sleep and wake cycles, but it can help manage stress levels.  Double up the benefits by making plans with a friend.
  7. Manage study time.  Designate study times for each class and stay on top of the homework.  This helps to avoid stress and last-minute cramming.
  8. Avoid all-nighters.  The best thing you can do to pass an exam is study hard and then get a good night’s sleep.
  9. Sleep with a weighted blanket.  Are weighted blankets good for college students? Yes. The blanket increases serotonin production, increasing the quality of the sleep you DO get, and helping you fall asleep faster. It’s also like a comforting hug from home.


So, for all those going off to college, and for moms and dads sending their young adults to college, to sleep or not to sleep is the question.  And the answer is yes! Sleep is not lazy -- on the contrary, is the key to your success!

Happy zzzz’s.

Joan Andres, LMFT, LMHC

Joan Andres has 20 years’ experience as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Iowa -- 19 of those years working primarily with college students.  She co-founded and directed Northwestern College's Student Counseling Services from 2000-2018. In 2016, she began a private practice to serve the broader community, where she now works full-time. Joan loves sharing life’s joys and challenges with her loving husband, 3 lively kids, and close friends - especially over a good cup of coffee!



*Dorm image from Pinterest

1 Response

Rachel Norris
Rachel Norris

July 26, 2018

So helpful for college students. Thank you!

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What Blanket Weight Should I Buy?

If you're new to weighted blankets, we recommend that you choose the lightest weight available of the style you prefer. If after looking at this size chart you find yourself between two weights, we recommend you choose the lighter of the two.