Sleep Reporter, The Huffington Post
Your dorm room presents many obstacles to good sleep.
College dorm rooms bring on their own breed of sleep saboteurs — from the always-looming coursework to the impromptu Justin Bieber dance party happening down the hall. But anyone who has pulled or attempted an all-nighter has felt the dismal effects of getting too little sleep.
Sleep debt (i.e., not getting enough of it) has short- and long-term consequences for your body, your health and how you function, says Jess Shatkin, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine.
“Poor sleep affects everything from memory and neurological functioning to irritability, depression and anxiety,” he tells The Huffington Post. Recent studies have linked poor sleep to a wide range of health problems, from an inability to focus and pay attention to difficulty staying at a healthy weight. And even more research has shown when you don’t get enough sleep, you’re more likely to get sick, get emotional, have an accident and even look less attractive.
To help yourself get seven to nine hours of sleep a night (which is what the National Sleep Foundation recommends for anyone age 18 to 25), Shatkin and other experts say to watch out for these sleep wreckers:
1 Your cell phone
Sleep experts everywhere denounce using cell phones (or any screen for that matter) before sleeping because the light your devices project actually interferes with your body’s production of the hormone melatonin, i.e., the natural cue your body gets from darkness to go to sleep. But, Shatkin explains another reason having your cell phone in your room might be disrupting your sleep.
It’s completely normal for your body to wake up every one and a half to two hours during sleep for a couple of minutes and then fall back asleep, he says. “If we’re sleeping well, we probably don’t remember these awakenings.”
Typically you need to be awake about five or six minutes to be aware you are awake. But familiar stimuli (like your cell phone) can trigger you to start thinking about things you associate with those stimuli (work, classes, tests, deadlines!) and keep you awake. Getting your phone out of the room you sleep in is best, but if you’re living in cramped quarters (or a one-room dorm), sleep with your phone across the room and under a towel so you won’t see it, Shatkin suggests.
2 Your alarm clock
If you’re not using your phone as an alarm, good job! But if you’re using an alarm that has a digital face, you should be sure the light is amber-colored, not blue — because blue light is the type that can interfere with your ability to fall asleep.
3 Your TV
Your TV is just one more screen putting out sleep-wrecking blue light — the No. 1 reason you should leave it off before going to sleep and while you’re sleeping.
But if you’re someone who falls asleep with the television on “in the background,” listen up. Unlike soothing white noise from sound machines (or even the buzz of an air conditioner) that can help you tune out other noises distracting you from sleep, the sounds coming from your TV jump around in tone, pitch and volume and can potentially wake you up and interrupt sleep.
4 Your multipurpose bed
Your bed is not your living room — no matter how small your dorm is. And if you want to sleep well in your bed, save your bed for sleep (or sex), Shatkin says. Study in the library or at your desk and use common areas to hang out with your friends.
“You want to associate the bed with sleep,” Shatkin says. “Just like Pavlov’s dogs started drooling when they heard the bell, you want your head to drool for sleep when you see your bed.”
5 Your university-issued mattress
Regardless of whether it’s too soft, too hard or just too lumpy, your school-issued dorm mattress might literally be a pain in your neck.
“A poor quality mattress or any mattress that makes you feel uncomfortable in bed can be distracting and prevent someone from getting good quality sleep,” Shatkin says. Try adding a mattress pad or pillow top to make it more comfortable.
6 Your snooze button
Experts agree having a regular bedtime and wake time makes for the best sleep, but even if you end up joining your friends for that late night study session and end up hitting your sheets later than usual, getting out of bed on schedule the next morning will actually help keep you on a better sleep schedule overall, Shatkin says. “People make the mistake of staying in bed and whittling away their sleep cycle,” he adds.
He suggests getting up — and even if you do build up some sleep debt, you’ll sleep better the next night. And if you feel you can’t make it through the day, try a 20- to 30-minute nap before 4 p.m. to help yourself feel refreshed but not interfere with nighttime sleep.
7 Your roommate’s computer screen
You know computer, TV and cell phone screens are a no-no for good sleep, but that doesn’t mean your roommate is on your schedule. If a blue glow from your roommate’s laptop or TV (or ambient light from outside) is invading your sleep space, try sleeping with eyeshades.
“And not the free ones you get on long flights, which can lean against your eyes and might keep you awake,” Shatkin says. Look for the convex ones that allow you to blink underneath them.
Eyecandy Images via Getty Images
Whether it’s your roommate clicking away on a laptop or the muffled gossip session out in the hallway, there’s no need to let others interfere with your sleep. Get a pair of earplugs or try using a noise machine to drown them out.
And if the problem is your roommate, there is no substitute for good communication. Try having a conversation about regular dark or sleepy hours for your room, Shatkin says.
And before you tackle anything else, clean! But if allergies, asthma and/or nasal congestion are still keeping you awake after running the vacuum and wiping down surfaces, invest in an air purifier. These devices contain filters that help reduce the pollutants, pollen and other airborne allergens that you end up breathing in (and might be disrupting your sleep).
Sarah DiGiulio is The Huffington Post’s sleep reporter. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.