Student Wellness Services

Student Wellness Services

site header


Your Sleep Needs

Sleep and Academics

Sleep and Overall Health/Athletics

We need sleep just like we need food and water.  Our internal clock regulates our sleep patterns according to the 24 hour cycle of light & dark which is why we usually feel sleepy every 12 hours (i.e., around 2-4am and 2-3pm).

How much sleep do I need?

Everyone has their own "sleep number" but 90% of young adults need 7-9 hours EACH NIGHT. The National Sleep Foundation also recommends that young adults (ages 18-25) do not get any less than 6 or any more than 11 hours of sleep per night. To figure out your "sleep number", wake up without an alarm clock for 3 consecutive nights & then take the average number of hours of sleep you got.

What happens during sleep?

During the night, we go through 4 or 5 sleep cycles which last 90 minutes each.  In every cycle, we go through REM (i.e., rapid eye movement) and non-REM (i.e., stages 1-4) states which allow our brains & muscles to regenerate.  Non-REM sleep regenerates parts of the brain responsible for speech, creative thinking, judgment, impulse control, attention, and visual association while REM sleep is responsible for stimulating the part of our brain used for learning and memory.

Sleep stages graph

 Sleep stages graph

During a typical night of sleep, adults spend more time in REM sleep near the end of the cycle.  If we’re consistently getting less sleep than we need, it will start to impair our learning and memory.

Sleep Hygiene Guidelines


Sleep Hygiene is important for promoting healthy sleep and daytime alertness. The following good sleep hygiene practices can prevent the development of sleep problems and disorders:

  • Write down things that are on your mind before bed
  • Exercise to promote good sleep
    • Vigorous exercise should be done in the morning or late afternoon (avoid vigorous exercise 3 hours before bed)
    • A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep
  • Establish a pre-sleep routine to signal your body that it’s time to sleep
  • Reserve your bed for sleep
    • You can do this by avoiding the use of your bed for activities such as studying, watching TV or reading
  • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light during the day as it helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle
  • Keep your alarm clock out of sight
  • Keep your curtains closed at night to help keep your room dark
  • Take a warm bath or shower 90 minutes before bed as opposed to right before bed since we sleep better when our bodies cool down
  • Avoid substances that interfere with sleep near bedtime (i.e.: caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol)

Sleep Deprivation


When you get less sleep than you need at night you start to accumulate sleep debt which you’ll have to eventually pay back. Partial sleep deprivation will start to affect your attention & ability to learn new tasks. Unfortunately it usually needs to be paid back slowly. For example, adding an extra 20-30 minutes onto the number of hours of sleep you normally need. 


Going for 24 hours without sleep (i.e., pulling an all-nighter) can be dangerous. Once totally sleep deprived people often experience microsleeps where they’re conscious but not really aware of what’s going on around them. It tends to make people less productive at work, more likely to have mood problems, and puts them at a greater risk for car accidents.


While napping can’t replace a good night sleep, it can help you feel more alert.  So here are some tips to help you have a great nap that won't interfere with your bedtime sleep.

  • Keep it short (i.e., 20-30 minutes)
    • This will prevent you from getting into a deep stage of sleep & consequently feeling groggy when you wake up
  • Mid-afternoon is best
    • This will help make sure it doesn’t interfere with your nighttime sleep
  • Make it the same time everyday
    • Your body will adjust better to short naps when the time of day is consistent
  • It’s not for everyone
    • If you have trouble falling asleep at night (i.e., it takes you more than 20 minutes) avoid daytime naps



Where do dreams come from?

Dreams are believed to be made up from your daily experiences but are different for everyone depending on their age, gender, culture, and social role.  For example children usually have more animals than humans in their dreams.  Women include more verbal interactions while men include more anxiety and physical aggression.

What are nightmares?

Nightmares are complex dreams that happen during REM sleep which contain frightful and anxious content.  They are more common in children and tend to decrease with age but psychological tension and traumatic experiences can trigger intense recurrent nightmares in adults.  If nightmares are frequent it’s recommended that people seek professional help to learn ways to control the appearance of nightmares.

How to Avoid Jet Lag

  • Pick a flight that arrives in the morning
  • Try to stay up until 10pm local time your first night
  • When travelling…
    • Eastward – get up & go to bed EARLIER several days before you leave
    • Westward – get up & go to bed LATER several days before you leave
  • Set your watch to your destination time when boarding
  • Avoid heavy meals when you arrive
  • Bring earplugs & blindfolds to dampen noise & block out light
  • Get outside in the sunlight as much as possible when you arrive
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and heavy exercise 3-4 hours before bedtime

Alcohol helps me get a better night sleep

While drinking might help you fall asleep faster, you’ll actually wake up more often during the night and experience a more restless sleep.

Doing work or watching TV in bed helps me fall asleep

Stress from work or watching violent shows and news reports can be distressing and actually hinder the quality of your sleep.  Instead try to reserve the bedroom for sleep and sex.

Exercising right before bedtime will help me fall asleep

While exercising in the morning and early afternoon can improve your sleep patterns, intense exercise right before bed increases your alertness and body temperature.  Since it takes 6 hours or more for your body temperature to drop after exercise and cooler body temperatures are associated with sleep onset, try to be more active during the earlier part of your day.

Insomnia, while inconvenient, has no serious health effects

Insomnia is a serious medical condition associated with decreased work performance, depression or mood changes, and increased risk of car crashes.

I can train my body to require less sleep

As much as you can physically train your body to get stronger, sadly nobody is able to train their body to require less sleep.  Eventually your sleep debt will accumulate to a level where your health is affected and you’ll need to start paying it off.