Why Sleep is Essential to College Students’ Mental Health

Not getting enough sleep doesn’t just leave you feeling and looking tired the next day. The quality and quantity of sleep you get has a massive impact on both your physical and mental health. For students — who deal with numerous stressors on a daily basis and are susceptible to mental illness — proper sleep is especially important.

Mental Health in Students
The rate of mental illness and student suicide has increased in the UK over the past decade, giving rise to a heightened focus on mental health in higher education. There are many reasons mental health can suffer at this age, including changes in home circumstances, increased stress from college pressures, the financial burden of higher education, being away from home, and changing social groups: these can all impact our mental health and wellbeing. In addition to this, college and university students are in an age group that is at a higher risk of mental health problems.

Keeps Stress in Check
Stress can be incredibly harmful to a student’s health; elevated levels of stress can put them at an increased risk of depression and anxiety, as well as reduce the amount of attention they can give to their studies. Too little sleep can cause stress levels to soar, while getting enough sleep helps students work through their troubles and wake up in a better mood, more focused, and energized.

Improves Symptoms in Depression & Anxiety
If you’re a student who has already been diagnosed with some kind of mental health disorder, not getting enough sleep can exacerbate the problem. Sleep deprivation has been linked to a worsening of symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD, so the last thing you want to do is put quality sleep on the backburner.

Reasons for Lack of Sleep
There are plenty of reasons to skimp on sleep (or skip it entirely) when you’re in your college years. Working to pay rent, maintaining a social life, homework, and late nights studying for exams and assessments might all seem like good reasons to sacrifice your slumber. But when it comes to making the most of your college years and safe-guarding your mental health, sleep is essential.
The stress students may experience at college can instigate a relapse or initiate mental health issues. Sleep is a major part of self-care, just as important as diet, exercise and managing our workload. Not getting enough can result in falling asleep in lectures, increased anxiety, and a decreased ability to process new information, none of which are conducive to a happy student life.

Making Sleep A Priority
Getting enough sleep when you’re a college student isn’t just good for your mental health – it will help you study better and achieve higher results on exams and other assessments.

Try to keep your bed for sleeping and not use it for study or writing up assignments. Doing so causes subconscious associations between your bed and work or stress – not so great for getting relaxed and nodding off.

Consider the lighting in your bedroom, and that doesn’t just mean drawing the blinds! Blue light disrupts our circadian rhythms and can make it difficult for us to sleep by triggering hormones that increase brain activity. Try using a blue light filter on your laptop and smartphone to limit exposure after certain hours.

Give your mind some time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Rather than using your phone to scroll through social media, why not use it for a wind down app that can help you drift off and achieve quality sleep.

Know When to Seek Help
Everyone feels anxious, stressed and down at certain times; however, it’s when these feelings don’t go away after a couple of weeks, or begin to affect daily activities like exercise and studying that it can become an issue and indicate that you need to seek help.

If you are feeling low, anxious, or more agitated than usual, are having issues with weight or sleeping, these can be signs that you need some additional support. If this is the case, consider your college/University counselling services, student-led services or visiting your GP for advice and guidance.

Blog by Stephanie James, freelance writer.

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