We’ve reached the time of the semester when projects, papers, and tests start piling up. School work combined with rowdy roommates, bright lights, work, friends, loud noises makes for a lot of things that stand between you and sleep.

But when you run low on sleep, you can be slow and lack focus—much like a zombie! The average adult needs 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Illinois State students report sleep as the second highest obstacle to academic success. Sleep is a vital part of your overall well being and can affect nearly every aspect of your life.

Effects of lack of sleep

In addition to feeling like a zombie, running on little sleep can cause:

  • Decreased decision-making abilities
  • Difficulty focusing or recalling information
  • Irritability
  • Poor school and/or work performance
  • Slowed response times
  • Weakened immune system
  • And over time can lead to an increased risked for chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression and obesity.

Helpful habits to catch Zzz’s

  • Have a fixed bed time and wake-up time, even on the weekends. This will help your body develop a regular sleep pattern. If you do need to sleep in or stay up later than usual, try to limit it to no more than two hours later than your usual bedtime or wake up time.
  • Avoid napping during the day. If you do nap, make sure it is no longer than 20 minutes and is before 3 p.m. A recent study indicates that a 10 minute nap is optimal for reducing sleepiness and improving cognitive performance.
  • Daily exercise can help you fall asleep more quickly and makes your sleep more restful. Be sure to not work out for three hours prior to bedtime.
  • Avoid alcohol or limit consumption. Alcohol is a depressant and makes you feel tired, but disrupts your sleep cycles and reduces the quality of sleep. If you do drink alcohol, limit it to no more than three drinks (one drink = 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1 ounce of 100 proof distilled spirits) and stop at least two hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine and energy drinks at least 4 to 6 hours before going to bed. Caffeine and some of the other ingredients in energy drinks are stimulants and it can take your body several hours to flush them from your system.
  • Limit the amount of time spent on computers, cellphones, watching TV, and playing video games—especially right before bed. Electronics stimulate your brain and can make it harder to fall asleep.

At bedtime

  • Try not to go to bed hungry. Eat a light, carbohydrate-rich snack such as a bowl of cereal or toast. However, eating and drinking in large amounts before bed can disrupt sleep.
  • Establish pre-sleep rituals such as taking a warm bath or reading to help tell your body it is time to sleep. Find what relaxes you and stick with it.
  • Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing to help clear your mind. Do not take your worries to bed with you.
  • Find a preferred sleep position and get into it.
  • Avoid looking at the clock when waking up in the middle of the night. Looking at the clock can cause anxiety.

If you try these tips and are still having sleep problems, students may contact the Student Health Services at (309) 438-2778 to make an appointment with a sleep disorder specialist. Faculty and staff should discuss sleep issues with their personal health care provider.

Additional information