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To Get an A You Need Some Z’s

[YAWNNNNNNN] That heavy sensation comes over your eyelids. The professor is talking about something that you know you should be paying attention to, but you just can’t seem to take in what she’s saying. Your thoughts are completely consumed by the heavenly notion of resting your eyes just briefly while that syrupy drowsiness drifts over you. Ah, if only you had gone to bed before 2:00 AM last night!

Sleep is a crucial element of success in college. It influences our ability to learn and recall information – two of the most important tasks students find themselves facing. There are several stages to sleep, and some researchers believe that the REM stage of sleep plays a strong role in consolidating information we have learned. REM sleep lasts longer as the night progresses, making the final stages of sleep, around hour six to eight in the early morning hours, critical for learning.

Our brain chemistry slows the body in preparation for sleep when receptors detect changes in daylight. Increased light and physical activity toward the end of the day can confuse these receptors, leaving the brain stimulated. Light emitted from gaming devices, phones, tablets and computers negatively impact the brain’s ability to release the natural hormones the body needs to sleep.

However, the brain can be reset with about two weeks of diligence and consistency. The result are an increased sense of alertness, improved concentration and memory, and a generally improved sense of wellbeing.

How to Reset Your Sleep:

Remember! Light must hit important receptors in your brain to begin your 24-hour wake/sleep clock. It’s the time you wake up that impacts the time you will fall asleep, not the other way around!

  1. Stick to a schedule! The easiest way to reset your night clock is to wake early each morning every morning. Train your brain by waking consistently within the same hour every day, regardless of your class schedule.
  2. Establish a pre-bed routine and relax before bedtime. Find an activity that feels restful and perform the same habit every night.
  3. Control your room temperature between the high 60s to low 70s.
  4. Set your light according to the sun. Avoid a lot of computer or phone time an hour before bedtime. Additionally, wake up with the sun, or use very bright lights in the morning. Light helps the body's internal biological clock reset itself each day.
  5. Exercise 20-30 minutes at least 3-5 hours before bedtime.
  6. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol can alter the stages of sleep, and deep, restorative sleep isn’t achieved. Additionally, caffeine acts as a stimulant.
  7. If you can't get to sleep, don't just lie there. The anxiety of being unable to fall asleep can actually contribute to insomnia. Find a restful activity somewhere else and only return to bed when you feel sleepy again.
  8. Don’t play ‘catch-up.’ Poor quantity and quality sleep during the week cannot be adequately recovered by sleeping in on the weekend. Truly restful sleep occurs through consistent, daily practices.


Material adapted from National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep by Lanice Bennett, M.S., LPC-S, NCC