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The University of Arkansas Rich Mountain values the importance of student mental health and well-being. Mental health is equally as important as physical health and a key influence on student academic success. Mental health is vital to cope with daily challenges, recognize your personal strengths, and learn most effectively.

Sleep and mental health share a close relationship. Poor sleep can negatively impact mental health, and mental health struggles can cause disturbances with sleep. Inadequate sleep in college students can often lead to poor academic performance, irritability, brain fog, and depression (Buboltz et al., 2021). The CDC recommends that adults 18 and over should aim to sleep 7 or more hours per night Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022). If you are experiencing difficulties with sleep, you are not alone. In studies of college students, 60% reported poor quality of sleep (Lund et al., 2010) and 73% of college students deal with at least one form of sleep problem (Buboltz et al., 2021).

If you are struggling with sleep, here are a few evidence-based methods to help you out:

  • Sleep Friendly Environment: Creating a designated space for sleep can help to improve sleep quality. To do this, reduce the temperature in your room, reduce sounds such as a tv or loud music playing, and make your room as dark as possible. Try to use your bed only for sleep (Enam et al., 2023). It can sometimes be more comfortable to study or sit in your bed to watch tv, but doing these activities in bed may cause your brain to associate being in bed with these tasks and increase difficulty falling or staying asleep. Using sleep aids such as weighted blankets, eye masks, and white noise machines can also assist in sleep quality (Ho & Siu, 2018).

  • Sleep Routine: For optimal sleep, it is important to create a habit. This includes waking up and going to bed at the same time each day including weekends. Try to avoid eating meals and snacks after 8:00 pm (Enam et al., 2023). Incorporate relaxation techniques into your bedtime routine. This may include taking a warm bath, yoga, reading a book, listening to calming music, meditation, or brain dumping (The Ottawa Hospital, 2015). Brain dumping is a free writing type of activity to unload your brain of anxiety, stress, emotions, and worries about the future. Try to reduce the amount of time you spend using digital devices before bed. Aim to turn off your devices 30-45 minutes prior to bedtime (The Ottawa Hospital, 2015).

  • Daily Routine: There are several areas you can prioritize throughout the day to improve your sleep habits. Limit caffeine consumption later in the day. Caffeine is not only in soda, tea, and coffee but also in foods such as chocolate. Take naps earlier in the day instead of later in the evening. Try to nap for no more than 45 minutes. Keep a sleep journal. Exploring current sleep habits can help you to discover areas of needed improvement (The Ottawa Hospital, 2015).

  • Physical Activity: Exercising has multiple health benefits including improving the quality of sleep. Participating in exercise 2 or more days per week can help to reduce insomnia and make winding down at the end of the day easier (Mbous et al., 2022). Research suggests that even light exercise, such as walking, improves sleep quality in young adults (Wang & Boros, 2021).

Additional Sleep Resources

References

Buboltz, W. C., Brown, F., & Soper, B. (2001). Sleep habits and patterns of college students: A preliminary study. Journal of American College Health, 50(3), 131-135.

https://doi.org/10.1080/07448480109596017.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21186447/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, September). How much sleep do I need? https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html

Enam, N., Pacuku, K., & Grampurohit, N. (2023). Occupational therapy and sleep management: Advantages of telehealth services during COVID-19. SIS Quarterly Practice Connections. https://www.aota.org/publications/sis-quarterly/home-community-health-sis/hchsis-5-23

Ho, E. & Siu, A. (2018). Occupational therapy practice in sleep management: A review of conceptual models and research evidence. Occupational Therapy International, 2018, 8637498.
https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/8637498

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6087566/

Lund, H. G., Reider, B. D., Whiting, A. B., & Prichard, J. R. (2010). Sleep patterns and predictors of disturbed sleep in a large population of college students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 46(2), 124-132. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2009.06.016.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20113918/

Mbous, Y., Nili, M., Mohamed, R., & Dwibedi, N. (2022). Psychosocial correlates of insomnia among college students. Preventing Chronic Disease, 19, 220060. https://doi.org/10.5888/pcd19.220060 https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2022/22_0060.htm#:~:text=The%20National%20Sleep%20Foundation%20and,sleep%20per%20night%20(2).

The Ottawa Hospital. (2015, March). Occupational therapy guide to better sleep. https://www.ottawahospital.on.ca/en/documents/2017/08/p1186-guide-better-sleep-english-mar-2014.pdf/#:~:text=Try%20to%20go%20to%20sleep,day%2C%20even%20on%20the%20weekends.&text=Turn%20down%20lights%20during%20the,ready%20for%20rest%20and%20sleep.&text=Take%20a%20warm%20bath%20at%20bedtime.

Wang, F., & Boros, S. (2021). The effect of daily walking exercise on sleep quality in healthy young adults. Sport Sciences for Health, 17, 393-401. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11332-020-00702-x https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11332-020-00702-x