Tips to Sleep in College Dorms

Updated on October 26, 2020

College is a time of transition. A new school comes with unknown classmates, fresh academic challenges, enhanced freedoms, broader social opportunities, and changes to the rhythms and organization of day-to-day life.

On top of all of that, for many people, college is their first time living outside of their family home. The longstanding comfort of their bedroom is replaced with life in a dorm, usually in a shared room with pre-installed furniture and plenty of distractions.

All of these changes can wind up posing major hurdles to quality sleep. The statistics about college students’ sleep are grim. Studies have found that 70% of college students get less than the recommended amount of sleep. Over 50% report frequent daytime sleepiness or fatigue. This sleep deprivation has unfortunate effects that range from reduced academic achievement to a greater risk of life-threatening auto accidents.

Thankfully, there are steps that college students can take to get better sleep. In this guide, we’ll focus on some specific ways to manage frequent challenges and sleep better in college dorms.

College Students and Sleep

How Much Sleep do College Students Need?

Though there’s no exact figure that applies to every single person, most estimates are that college students need around 8 hours of sleep each night.

Why is Sleep Important for College Students?

Sleep has wide-ranging importance in the lives of college students. It plays a central role in learning and memory, and as a result, students who get plenty of sleep tend to have higher GPAs than sleep-deprived students.

Sleep plays a big part in our emotional well-being and mood. People who are short on sleep are more prone to problems like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. People who already have these and other mental health conditions often find their symptoms to be worse without consistent sleep.

Drowsiness during the day that can result from sleep deprivation makes anyone, including college students, more susceptible to accidents of all kinds. These can include mental mistakes (like forgetting an important meeting) and physical risks (such as falls or automobile accidents).


Sleep Tips For College Students: Troubleshooting to Improve Sleep in a Dorm Room

Going from sleeping at home to sleeping in a dorm room can be a jarring transition. Changes related to both the sleep environment and the lifestyle in a dorm often make it much harder for college students to get the rest that they need.

Thankfully, a little problem-solving and sleep hygiene can go a long way to help make it easier to get high-quality and consistent sleep at college. This section provides practical tips for troubleshooting common challenges and getting better sleep in college dorms.

1. Block Out Noise

With many students in one building, college dorms can be a hive of activity and noise. Whether it’s blaring music, friendly conversations, or just people coming and going, noise pollution can make it harder to fall asleep and can lead to disruptions in the middle of the night.

In most cases, you can’t control all the potential sources of noise, so your best bet is to block out the sound. Earplugs or headphones can go a long way to keep noise from disturbing you. A white noise machine or white noise app can help drown out external noise as well.

2. Shut Out Light

As with noise, light sources in a college dorm are abundant and can be a real distraction.

A sleep mask is a great tool to prevent light from bothering you when you need to sleep.

If a sleep mask doesn’t work for you, try to turn off as many electronics in your room as possible before bed to reduce blinking lights. If you need a nightlight or bedside lamp, use a low-wattage bulb. A wake-up light can reduce light from your clock and can help slowly wake you up in the morning.

3. Reduce Screen Time Before Bed

Light isn’t just important right when you’re going to sleep. Your exposure to light plays a key part in your circadian rhythm and how your mind and body prepare for bed. Unfortunately, screens on laptops, mobile phones, and tablets emit a type of light, called blue light, that interrupts this preparation by suppressing the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep.

You can use the night mode on your phone, an app to filter blue light, or even blue light glasses to reduce your blue light exposure. But it’s not just the blue light that makes devices a barrier to sleep. The way that they stimulate the eyes and mind make it harder to get relaxed for bed. As a result, the best option is to stop using your devices for a half-hour to an hour every night before bed.

4. Improve Your Bed

Beds in dorm rooms don’t have a reputation for being the most comfortable. Mattresses may be low-quality and can be worse for wear after many years of use. Getting comfortable and getting the support you need for your back and the rest of your body can be significant challenges.

In most cases, you can’t completely replace the mattress in your dorm room. For that reason, a great option is to consider a mattress topper that can dramatically improve the feel of your bed. As an added bonus, toppers tend to be much more affordable than a brand new mattress.

Another way to step up the quality of your sleeping surface is to invest in bedding that you love. A quality pillow will provide the cushioning that your neck needs. Great sheets can deliver an inviting feel against your skin, and a nice blanket can keep you cozy in any climate.

5. Make Your Schedule Work For You

Beginning in teenage years, a person’s daily sleep-wake pattern shifts, making most young adults “night owls” who prefer to stay up later and have a harder time waking up early in the morning. This pattern continues for most people through their college years.

When you can, try to account for this natural tendency in your daily schedule. If possible, choose classes that start at 9 a.m. or later to give yourself time to wake up and get ready each day.

You can also make your schedule work for you by striving for consistency. Experts recommend having a set time to go to bed and wake up that you follow every day, including on weekends. Your schedule can also include a standard routine — including things like brushing your teeth, shutting down your electronics, etc.– to get ready for bed as this helps get your mind and body primed to fall asleep peacefully.

Try to plan ahead for time to study so that you’re not tempted to stay up all night cramming for a test or finishing a project. While all-nighters might seem like an occasional necessary evil, the truth is that they rarely help you in any way. Not only can they throw off your sleep schedule for days, but studies have found that students without sleep perform worse on academic tests. To make matters worse, students who were tested after all-nighters noticeably overestimated how well they did on those tests, which just demonstrates that even if it seems beneficial at the time, going without sleep doesn’t really pay off.

6. Reserve Your Bed for Sleep and Sex

A dorm room can become a general base of operations, and you may be tempted to hang out on your bed while you study or socialize with your roommate or other friends. The problem with this is that it ruptures the unconscious association in your mind between your bed and sleep, and that can make it harder to easily doze off at night.

To prevent this problem, use your bed only for sleep and sex. When you want to study or socialize, find other spaces in the dorm or on-campus — like the library, cafés, or student lounges — to take advantage of.

7. Be Honest With Your Roommate

For many college students, dorm life is the first time that they’ll share a bedroom. On top of that, they share the room with someone they’ve never met and didn’t have any part in choosing.

While this situation often leads to the creation of friendships that can last a lifetime, learning to live with a roommate is a process. How you share your space can directly influence how well you sleep in your dorm room.

Learning to communicate openly with your roommate is critical and can improve both your sleep and your friendship. Talk with your roommate about anything that might affect your sleep — like decreasing light or noise after a certain time — and make sure to ask them about their needs as well.

8. Get Help With Anxiety and Depression

Adjusting to college life can create problems of anxiety and depression. These feelings may be linked to things like school stress or social problems. Or they may arise without a clear tie to anything in particular. But both anxiety and depression can complicate sleep, which then tends to make it harder to manage these conditions.

If you have symptoms of anxiety or depression, talk to someone. Most colleges and universities have a counseling office or health center where you can meet with a person trained to help. You aren’t the first college student to deal with these problems, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help.

There are many ways to manage anxiety and depression, and getting help can contribute to both feeling better and sleeping better. A form of talk therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) can be applied to help with sleeping problems, including those related to anxiety and depression, and has shown effectiveness in college students in past studies. In some cases, it can even be done by email or with an online program.

9. Be Careful With Alcohol

The freedom of college life frequently brings increased opportunities to drink alcohol. Know that drinking isn’t obligatory, and if you do choose to drink, it’s important to be mindful of the potential consequences.

Most people know that alcohol can be habit-forming, that it can cause hangovers, and that it can lower inhibitions and lead to dangerous decision-making. What many people don’t know is that alcohol can also negatively impact your sleep. While drinking may make you fall asleep easily, it reduces the quality of that sleep, with a net negative effect.

10. Go Easy on Caffeine

Caffeine can help with energy and focus, and a cup of coffee or an energy drink may seem to be the perfect pick-me-up on those days when you seem to be dragging. Remember, though, that this stimulant effect can make caffeine consumption a real problem when you want to sleep. Caffeinated drinks can also become a crutch to try to overcome sleep deprivation, further disturbing your sleep-wake patterns.

Try to only drink caffeine early in the day because it can stay in your system and continue to affect you for hours as it metabolizes. In addition, use caution with energy drinks that may pack a punch with mega-doses of caffeine.

11. Get Daily Exercise

As you adjust to the new routines of college and the demands of your classes, regular physical activity can slide down your list of priorities. But frequent, meaningful exercise has huge health benefits and can promote quality sleep.

Exercise doesn’t have to mean going to the gym. Joining an intramural sports team or taking walks around campus can offer ways to get moving and often in a social setting.

An added benefit of exercise is that it can combat weight gain. While the “freshman 15” is overstated, studies have found that most people do add pounds when they start college.

12. Keep Calm and College On

It’s often said that college is a time to learn and develop important life skills, and one of those skills can be knowing how to stay calm and resilient in all types of circumstances.

Staying calm can be hard at times because our brain is programmed to have what’s known as the stress response in certain situations. Meditation is one way of fostering a relaxation response that can combat both acute and chronic stress.

Meditation can be as simple as taking controlled deep breaths, or it can be more involved in longer sessions of yoga or mindfulness. There’s no one right or wrong way to meditate, and you don’t have to worry about being good or bad at it. Learning some basic relaxation techniques can be a benefit when you face worrisome or stressful times and can be a big help with sleep problems as well.