With the freedom to set their own class schedules, college students have more flexibility on how to spend their days, whether they prefer working out in the morning or sleeping in. Many of us, including myself, do the latter because we finally can. I loved those extra hours of sleep; it’s the dream of every student who struggled to wake up at 6 a.m. every day in high school. But I kept hearing a nagging voice in the back of my head telling me that half the day was going to waste. And after a few weeks into the semester, I realized I had to change my sleep schedule.
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Experts recommend waking and sleeping around the same time every day because it will reinforce your circadian rhythm. Whether you’re an early bird or night owl, maintaining a regular internal clock is important not only for improving productivity, but also for stabilizing your hormone levels, body temperature, metabolism, and immune system.
To get a full eight hours of sleep, my goal was to sleep at 11 p.m. and wake up at 7 a.m. This was early for me, as I usually slept after midnight, but I was determined to make it work. First, I kept a sleep journal to keep track of my sleeping and waking times, along with additional notes on why I slept at that certain time. This made it easier to detect problems as they came up and tackle them. If you think you might have a sleep disorder, a record of any abnormal movements or behaviors during sleep cycles can help doctors provide a more accurate diagnosis.
Sleep journals don’t have to be a physical, full-prose journal; it can be as simple as an electronic spreadsheet on Excel or Google Sheets. I used Google Sheets because I already had the app on my phone. Every morning, I entered in the current time and then used my Health app to see when I fell asleep the night before. Within the first week, I started to notice a pattern: Even when I tried to go to bed earlier than usual, I wasn’t able to fall asleep until much later—after spending a few hours staring at my phone or at the ceiling—which ultimately led to waking up much later the next day.
Being able to fall asleep at an early time is not as easy as it seems—in fact, it takes a whole day’s effort to be able to do so. I quickly learned that in order to fall asleep at 11 p.m., I had to somehow use up my energy during the day. I downloaded a productivity timer on my phone to help me manage my time and make sure I was being, well, productive. The app sets a timer for 25 minutes for studying and a short break of 5 minutes, with an occasional longer break.
One of the hardest parts I found was resisting my regular afternoon nap. Some people may be able to limit their naps to half an hour, but if you’re like me, naps can end up being an hour, sometimes two or three hours. And while I would feel refreshed after my nap, it would already be dark outside—not to mention only a few more hours until my actual bedtime.
Sometimes, sleeping early was extra difficult: I would be studying for exams, or out doing things with friends, or be caught up in a show on Netflix late at night. When that happened, I still tried to wake up at 7 a.m. the next morning, drink a large cup of coffee, and get back on schedule.
After a month of following this lifestyle, I found myself more awake during the day and hitting the hay before midnight. Instead of staying up late finishing assignments, my schedule completely shifted forward. Don’t get me wrong—I still can’t say I have a perfect sleep schedule now. I still take an occasional nap or unwind by watching shows on Netflix, but with my newly discovered system of keeping a sleep diary and using a productivity timer, I feel a lot better about how my days unfold.
Having a good sleep cycle isn’t as easy as having an oil diffuser or memory foam mattress. It depends on how you decide to use your day—and how determined you are to change your habits