When we’re young, most of us run around until we can’t keep our eyes open, then we sleep. As we grow older we form all kinds of habits surrounding our sleep schedule, making it more complicated than just resting when we’re tired.

No one ever teaches us how to sleep. Not our parents, not teachers, not books or online courses. Most of us just assume it’s a natural thing we all instinctively know how to do, yet so many people suffer from sleep deprivation, especially young people.

Healthy sleep is vital for school success, and success in every area of life. There are certain methods we can adopt to get the most out of each night’s rest so we can both feel and perform better on a daily basis.

Dangers of Losing Sleep

Sleep is as critical to survival as eating. When we sleep, our bodies perform regenerative functions that prepare us for the next day. Our brains have a chance to process information, and our organs have time to flush out toxins, repair tissues, and, quite literally, grow.

Without a good night’s sleep, these processes either do not activate or are incomplete. The result is our ability to function normally is compromised. We feel sluggish, we’re forgetful, we have brain fog. Those ill effects add up over time, too, often without us even knowing it. And they certainly detract from our overall school success.

The average college student only gets about six hours of sleep per night. This doesn’t sound so bad in itself, but when you factor in endless studying, socializing, and working, six hours just isn’t enough. Young people in their teens actually need about nine hours of sleep in order to stay rested. Building up a three-hour debt each night isn’t doing anyone any favors.

Why Aren’t We Sleeping Well?

Environmental causes account for about 15% of all sleep problems. This can include roommates making noise, bright lights outside of your window, an uncomfortably warm room, etc. Diagnosed medical conditions like sleep apnea swoop in and account for another 15%.

The remaining 70% of causes fall into the psycho-physiological category, which is to say they’re related to the mind and the body. Too much caffeine, over-using devices with blue-lit screens, or a mind that won’t stop racing are just a few of the more familiar factors.

We’d like to narrow that down even more to say that unhealthy sleep is the result of poor sleep habits. Having that cup of coffee after your afternoon class is a habit, as is staying up late at night swiping through social media posts. This can even include the habit of not doing certain things that would help you sleep better, such as getting on a good resting-waking schedule.

Sleep as a Skill

With eating, there are certain foods that are better for us than others. The same is true for all health-related aspects of life: better air, better water, better exercise, and so on. Sleep is no different.

Your first step to getting healthy sleep is to give sleep a little respect. It’s not something to be done only when you can’t keep your eyes open any longer; it’s something you should give time and attention to, just like preparing a good meal.

We like to think of sleep as a meta or universal skill. By getting the proper amount of rest we actually improve many areas of our lives. Feeling well-rested isn’t just nice on its own, it adds up to better decisions and greater success both in and out of school.

Setting Up Your Sleep System

What does quality sleep look like to you? You might not have an answer right away, but that’s ok. You’re about to enter the experimental stage where you learn about how much sleep you need to feel like you’re at the top of your game.

Creating systems is an effective way to reach the outcomes you’re interested in. If you want better sleep, set up a sleep system that drives you towards this goal.

First, try to hit the sack at the same time every night. Regularity is a fantastic way to train your body’s internal rhythms. This simple act alone can help you get deeper rest and feel more chipper in the mornings.

We get ready for work, we get ready for school, and we get ready for dates. Most of us do at least one or two things to get ready for sleep (brushing our teeth, flossing), but apart from that, our sleep rituals leave a lot to be desired. Instead, treat sleep like an event. Write in a journal before bed, read a book, or even make a small tidying up your bedtime ritual. Get in the right mindset for sleep.

Now think about your bed. Is it comfortable, uncluttered, and clean? Do you actually want to get under the covers? If you can change your mattress or pillows to improve your comfort level, do it. Sleep is important to school success and our overall wellness, so it’s a worthwhile investment to make.

Also worth considering is the environment in your bedroom. Is it comfortable? Is it quiet? If housemates or outside traffic is a bother, use an electric fan to create white noise, or sleep with earplugs. If possible, try lowering the temperature in your room, as most people sleep better when it’s slightly chilly.

Continuing Sleep Success

Most of us are used to looking for a specific list of dos and don’ts to help us improve our sleep. While those lists can contain good advice, they’re missing one vital part of the picture: you as an individual.

Tricks and tips for getting better sleep are all well and good, but what matters at the end of the day is how you implement that advice, how consistent you are in doing it, and how well those tricks work for your physiology. This is why it’s massively important to set up a sleep system and experiment with it to see what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to try, fail, and try again. That’s how life works, after all.

I’ve often heard that you should learn to wake up without an alarm, but that never really worked for me. One of my sleep hacks in college was to set two alarms: one near my bed for hitting the snooze button, and another across the room that forced me to get up and shut it off. It’s not on the list of ideal things to do for better rest, but it worked wonders for me.

Implementing systems in your life takes the guesswork out of the daily grind. When you develop workable methods for living your life — especially when those methods involve health-affirming meta-skills like eating, exercise, and sleep — you set yourself up for peak performance each and every day. That translates to school success, work success, and life success.

Shannon Llewellyn is the health writer for Universal Owl. A Cordon Bleu chef who always enjoyed writing on the side, she recently made the transition into writing full-time.

Her spare time is mostly taken up with running, meditating, yoga, and being grandma to Sammy.

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