Supporting mental health — A checklist for families of college studentsGuest Contributor
Falling asleep in a campus residence hall can be like trying to nap at a football game.
No matter how good your student’s sleep habits are when they're home, in college, constant interruptions, noise from the hallway and roommates turning on lights at odd hours can all make it difficult to catch zzz's.
And that’s unfortunate, because when it comes to thriving in college, sleep is the secret sauce. From academics to athletics and other extracurriculars, well-rested students perform better. Insufficient sleep can exacerbate physical and mental health issues, and sleep deprivation puts drivers at risk for accidents behind the wheel.
It is possible for your student to get a good night's sleep while living in a dorm, but it takes thoughtful preparation. As your student continues to settle in on campus, check in with them about how they’re sleeping — and share these ideas about healthy sleep supplies and techniques.
Your student may have been paired with a roommate who follows a vastly different nighttime routine. This might be because of their class or work schedules, or a result of differences in biological clocks and circadian rhythms.
If there’s conflict simmering about when and how much they each like to sleep, encourage your student to bring up the subject with their roommate. Most people want to be considerate and will modify their behavior. And it’s possible the roommate isn’t getting enough rest either! Your student should be ready to make adjustments, too, and meet their roommate halfway.
The temperature of the room is something else for roommates to talk about. It can be hard to fall asleep if a room is too cold or too warm. A small fan can help your student stay comfortable (and is also a source of white noise).
If the roommate insists on burning the midnight oil while your student wants to hit the hay around 10 p.m., your student might want to try a pop-up bed tent. The tent won't block out sound, but it will allow your student a darker, more private retreat.
You can also shop online for a variety of sound absorption products including acoustic panels and white noise machines made specifically for dorm rooms. An aromatherapy diffuser can help your student ease into sleep, and string lights that give off low light levels are helpful to some people. As with everything relating to the room's ambiance (sound, light and scent), your student should check in with their roommate as we all have different sensitivities and preferences.
Some students rely on eye masks and earplugs to get shuteye. Others find they’re able to drift off if they're listening to their favorite music. You can help by making sure your student has a supply of ear plugs (even if they only turn to them during exam weeks) as well as earbuds (a spare pair is a good thing to pop into a care package because they are easy to lose/break). Consider investing in heavier duty, noise-cancelling headphones, too, if your student's hearing is particularly acute.
For extra calming, your student might love a weighted blanket. They come in different styles and heaviness and apply soothing pressure as well as comforting softness.
Encourage your student to practice sound sleep hygiene by going to bed and waking up at the same time daily (even if their morning classes start at different times). Teach them healthy relaxation techniques like sipping chamomile tea, practicing gentle yoga and reading a book (not a screen) to ease into dreamland.
Advise your student to pay attention if they experience excessive daytime sleepiness (which is most prevalent in adolescents, older people and shift workers), especially if sleep apnea runs in your family.
Excessive daytime sleepiness can also be a warning sign, pointing to depression or substance misuse/abuse. Don’t be afraid to talk openly with your student about their mental health, and also about how alcohol and substance use can negatively impact sleep and overall wellness.
A noisy, light-filled dorm, coupled with the excitement of living away from home for the first time and the temptations of socializing with new friends, can keep your student awake at night. You can do your part to make sure they get the rest they need to succeed by supporting them with supplies and knowledge. They'll thank you!