The toughest battle you will face in college: getting enough sleep

People often think the hardest part about college is writing papers and cramming for tests. And yeah, that can be pretty stressful at times. But the hardest?

The hardest part about college is waking up in the morning.

I don’t mean that in a “woe is me” sort of way, like the thought of facing life is too much to bear. I mean the literal act of waking up—in other words, keeping my eyes open long enough that I can get my feet under me and walk to the shower.

I promise, if I could bounce out of bed every morning like it was nothing, college would be a breeze. Because the moment when my alarm goes off every morning is hands down the hardest, most painful part of my day.

And no, I’m not out until the sun comes up every night. I’m not hungover or beat from partying the night before. Yet for some reason, getting out of bed is just about as challenging as it gets.

I’ve tried almost everything too. Annoying song as the alarm, phone on the other side of the room. And even if I’m able to force myself out of bed and stumble to the shower, I’ve fallen asleep standing up in there more times than I can count.

Days when I’m able to sleep in are pure bliss. I’ll sleep till two in the afternoon if nothing stops me. The only thing with that is by then my day is practically over. The book of Proverbs says not to love sleep, and trust me, if there was something I could do to shake its hold on my physiology, I would do it in a heartbeat.

3198810449_a7a23121a7_zThe fact is, sleeping is an essential part of life. By the time you reach 60, you will have spent—ideally speaking—over 20 years sleeping. And since the brain does not stop developing until age 25, most college students are at an age where sleep is not just something they ought to be getting every night—it’s something they physically need. Sleep strengthens brain connectivity, cements what you’ve learned throughout the day, and a lack of it can actually cause permanent brain damage.

And while it’s recommended that adults get at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night, most college students on average only get around six. So why is this?

Other than staying up late to finish an assignment or partake in a late-night Sonic run, there’s actually a very rational and scientific reason for this. See, many young adults are trapped between two very different clocks that dictate when sleep is and is not necessary. The first is a biological clock, the internal one controlled by varying levels of melatonin in your brain that tells you when you’re tired and about to crash. The other is society’s clock, the external one that tells you class starts at 8:30 and that you have exactly zero skips left.

The thing is, most young adults have internal clocks longer than 24 hours—meaning that if they were kept in a dark room for a few weeks, most would likely wake up in cycles of 26 hours or so. This often leads to a vicious cycle whereby college-aged individuals physically cannot fall asleep early, and yet are forced to wake up for school or work before their bodies are ready. Those caught between the internal and external clocks suffer from what is commonly known as “social jet lag.”

4469802598_b822eb553f_zThe problem with social jet leg is that missing even an extra hour of sleep can throw you off for weeks. This is commonly seen with Daylight Saving’s Time. According to German chronobiologist Till Roenneberg, “Even though DST’s proponents argue that it’s just one small hour, the data suggest that between October and March, DST throws off our body clocks by up to four weeks, depending on our latitude, not allowing our bodies to properly adjust to the time change . . . The result is increased social jet lag and decreased sleep duration.”

Thankfully, there are several ways to “train” your biological clock to be more in tune with society’s clock. One proven way to do this is to get lots of sunlight during the day, especially in the short period after waking up. Also, avoid too much exposure to light at night. Things like staring at a phone, TV, or computer screen can set your clock back considerably and make it very difficult to fall asleep. Then of course there are the overall practices conducive to good sleep, regardless of your internal clock. Don’t skip out on exercise, remember to drink plenty of water, eat a good breakfast, and take your vitamins.

Ensuring that you get a good night’s sleep is one of the best ways to boost productivity, making the rest of your work go smoothly and less stressfully. Maybe then that 8:30 class won’t be so much of a hassle.