Sleep for success

Why sleep is important

Sleep is one of the most impactful ways to take care of your physical and mental health.

Sleep is also necessary for learning and memory, so getting quality sleep can help you meet your academic goals.

If you’re frequently feeling tired, have trouble focusing on tasks, pull all-nighters, or go to bed later than you want to, you may want to adjust your sleep habits.

The benefits of sleeping well

A good night’s sleep has many benefits to your mental, physical, and emotional health, such as:

  • An improved ability to focus, remember, and retain new information.

  • A stronger immune response, making it easier for your body to fight off illnesses.

  • A greater ability to complete tasks like studying, researching, and writing.

  • An improved mood, where you’re less likely to feel anxious, stressed, irritable, sad, or worried.

Strategies for better sleep

Sleep can be influenced by many things, including our environment and habits.

As a university student, you may find it challenging to get quality sleep for many reasons, but it’s important to find out what helps and what doesn’t. Consider what you can try to do differently throughout the day or before bedtime, to see if the changes benefit your sleep.

Reflect on your sleep schedule

  • Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night
    Most people need at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night to function optimally the next day. Think about how many hours you need to feel rested, and remember that quality is more important than quantity.
  • Get up at the same time each morning
    On days with no morning commitments, like the weekend, don’t sleep in more than one hour later than your normal wake time. This helps to keep your internal clock on schedule for sleep and wake times.
  • Go to sleep when you feel sleepy at night
    If you’re having trouble sleeping, try something relaxing that doesn’t involve screens, until you feel sleepy. Trying to force sleep can leave you feeling frustrated, making sleep even more difficult.

During the day

  • Stay active
    Physical activity can make it easier to fall asleep. Try a good workout after school or work, but avoid exercising close to your bedtime. Get resources and tips for moving more and staying motivated during exercise.
  • Be outdoors for part of the day
    Plan some outdoor time in your day, between classes, or during lunch break. Natural daylight is helpful in maintaining your body’s sleep and wake cycles.
  • Be smart about napping
    Taking a short 20- to 30-minute nap can leave you feeling alert and refreshed. Longer naps or naps too close to bedtime can affect your nighttime sleep. Pay attention to how your naps affect your daytime alertness and nighttime sleep.  Read more about the benefits and concerns of napping.

Before bed

  • Avoid or limit caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol before bedtime
    These drugs can impact your quality of sleep. Avoiding these substances is best for your sleep, but if you must, try not to use them at least 3 hours before your bedtime.
  • Stop using all technology and screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime
    Although using a laptop, cell phone, or tablet may be necessary for studying and communicating, light from these screens block melatonin, a hormone which helps you sleep.
  • Unwind before bed
    Take time in the evening to unwind before going to bed so you’re relaxed when trying to fall asleep. Try meditation or reading a book.
  • Write down your thoughts
    Try to note down thoughts, create a to-do list, or jot down all the things you’re grateful for. Keep a notepad and pen next to your bed.

In your sleeping space

  • Keep your bed a sleep sanctuary
    If your sleep and study space are in the same room, do your studying, writing, and other work at your desk, not on your bed. Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and well-ventilated.
  • Turn off your phone
    Invest in an alarm clock to wake you up in the morning, and turn off your phone. Alerts, light from your phone, and the temptation to check social media can all negatively impact your sleep.
  • Share your sleep habits with your roommate(s)
    Discuss your sleep habits and needs with whomever you share a space with. Sharing preferences or expectations about noise, light, visitors, and preferred sleep and wake time can help create a more supportive sleep environment. Learn how to start a conversation with your roommate.

During your studies

  • Plan for exam season
    Consider how you can be at your best and take care of the basics (e.g., sleep, nutrition, physical activity) during your exams. Learn to plan for a hectic exam season.
  • Avoid all-nighters
    You may occasionally have to pull an all-nighter, but not sleeping at all for even one night can affect your memory, mood, alertness, attention, and immune system. A good night’s sleep helps you remember what you’ve been learning. Studies have shown students who get a good night’s sleep perform better on tests than those that stay up to study more.
  • Learn to manage stress in your life
    Sometimes you can have thoughts or feelings before bed that may be stressful and interfere with your sleep. Find out how to reduce stress before sleep, and remember that sleep can be a great method of self-care.

    When trying something new

    When trying to improve sleep and exploring strategies, it’s important to note which strategies are working, and to be patient with yourself.

    It’s also important to remember that what works for someone else may not work for you in the same way. Ask questions such as:

    • Am I someone who’s naturally wakeful at night, or am I an early riser? 

    • Does taking a nap or eating before bed affect my sleep? 

    • How much sleep do I need to feel rested?

    To observe patterns and habits unique to you, try tracking your sleep with a sleep diary.

    Apps and interactive resources

    These websites and apps have been carefully chosen by health professionals at UBC. They’re easy and accessible tools you can use any time to improve your sleep.

    • Therapy Assistance Online (TAO)
      Manage your sleep with free modules, such as "Physical Exercise and Sleep Habits" and "Meditation for Restful Sleep." Register with a UBC email, which you can set up for free.
    • Calm app
      Get more restful sleep by meditating with relaxing music with this paid app.
    • Headspace app student plan
      Meditate and clear your mind for 10 minutes daily on the paid app.
    • Why do we sleep?
      Watch a TED talk video from a neuroscientist explaining the theories behind sleep.

    Professional support

    If your sleep still isn’t improving after trying these strategies, or if you’re feeling tired throughout the day despite getting plenty of sleep, talk to a health professional about your concerns.

    • HealthLink BC
      Call 811 to speak with a nurse about your concerns on sleep or learn how sleep affects your health online.
    • Student Health Service
      Book an appointment with a doctor who can help identify what's contributing to your sleeplessness and provide treatment.
    • Medimap
      Find available walk-in clinics and wait times, and book an appointment before visiting the location.