Are the party-goers in your dorm deserving of a guerrilla warfare campaign? Is your Game of Thrones watching roommate asking for a beheading?
Sleeping well in college is one of those challenges no one prepares you for. The key to getting a good night’s sleep in a noisy dorm is to keep your own routine to prepare for rest, set up your bedroom properly, use tools to help block the late-night noises, and set respectful boundaries with roommates. Let me guide you through how I managed to do it.
Getting the right environment
The conditions you fall asleep in matter. A dark, cool, and quiet bedroom is the trifecta needed for a perfect sleep. However, college dorms afford us little control over the environment – so we need to work with what we have! First, focus on the quiet part. Try to move your bed away from the door if you have a noisy hallway, or away from the window if people like hanging around making tons of noise outside.
While we can’t repaint the walls, try to find the darkest area of the room – which will probably also be the coolest. If you can, consider getting some black-out curtains for the window – or even just something to drape over it at night. While the extra darkness doesn’t stop the noise, darkness is one of the most important factors in getting a good sleep. If noise is something you can’t solve, giving yourself the best chance to feel sleepy might just be the best alternative. It’s hard to care about the party outside when your pillow’s feeling like your soulmate.
Using tools to beat the noise
There are some fantastic tools out there which are awesome to help you drift off to sleep. The most important, if basic, is a good set of ear plugs. While there’s no set of plugs that can drown out everything – they give us a great foundation to work with. But I can hear you now: ‘I hate ear plugs! They’re so fucking uncomfortable! And they fall out every night. What’s the point?!’
First of all, watch your language. Second – you’ve probably not been exposed to the right ear plugs yet. If you really want to step up your game, check out some in-ear silicone earplugs – like these on Amazon from Mack’s. They set to your ear-size and sit inside so they don’t fall out. They cover everything so well that they’re even waterproof. Compared to traditional earplugs these are a whole different ball game. Say goodbye to stuffing oversized foam into your ears.
If ear plugs really aren’t your thing, consider noise-canceling headphones. Some people swear by these, combined with an audiobook or white noise. Most headphones are a pain-in-the-ass to sleep with, since it makes it tricky to sleep on your side. However, listening to a calm voice narrate to you, or relaxing noises like the ocean, can be a fantastic way to drown out loud late-night laughter. If you’re curious about white noise, Noisli is a great place to start for free audio. But there’s plenty of others, too – just ask our friend Google.
Sleeping on schedule
Besides your environment, the number one thing you can do for an easy path to sleep is to keep a good routine. Any time we lead a structured life in terms of sleeping is when it becomes super easy to drift off to sleep. Your mind gets used to shutting down at a certain time, and it takes a lot to disturb that. However, this isn’t easy. Especially as a student. But it can be managed. The first step is to always wake up at a given time – even if it sucks, your body will get used to waking up and will start telling you it’s tired 8 hours before that. Missing this once every so often after a really late night is fine, as long as it doesn’t go beyond one day.
One disclaimer: it’s completely fine to ignore this sleeping routine for a big day. If you’ve got an exam or a job interview, do everything to get as much sleep as you can. But otherwise, do make it a priority to stick to your wake-up time, it’s the biggest way to solve getting to sleep on time.
It’s also worth mentioning to make a promise not to use screens for anything stimulating 30 minutes before you want to sleep. Ideally, have a cut-off time 8.5 hours before you need to get up. Make sure you’ve got a night light app on your phone, and have f.lux (or similar) installed on your laptop (it takes out the blue colors from the screen, which is the color that makes your eyes think it’s still daytime). The best solution I’ve ever found is having a book that you genuinely look forward to reading – and climbing into bed to do it.
So if you’re lying in bed reading this on a bright phone because you can’t sleep, you’re doing it wrong! Grab a book instead (after reading this article I’ve spent hours writing, of course..)
Work with your body
If the only exercise you’ve done all day is getting the bus to class, there’s no way you’re going to be lying in bed without a ton of energy. Yes, this is the cliché tip of the century to say ‘you should exercise’, but it is so, so important if you want a good night’s sleep. Don’t worry about running or lifting weights ’til you collapse – walking for a good 20/30 minutes will do the trick. Sound boring? Then you probably haven’t discovered the magic of audiobooks and podcasts yet. Plug in and go for a stroll. You’ll be surprised at how able you are to get better sleep because of it.
One great audiobook if you’re facing tough exams and coursework is ‘The Obstacle Is The Way’ by Ryan Holiday. It’s fantastic for putting things in perspective and giving you truckloads of courage to take on even the scariest obstacles. Check it out some samples from the audiobook here – and if you’re interested, grab it on Audible.
One caveat: no heavy exercise within 2 hours of wanting to sleep. If you’ve had all systems firing at the gym, it takes a good while for everything to calm back down. A six pack’s not worth sleeplessness!
Another vital tip is to try taking up meditation. It’s been proven to counteract insomnia and help you sleep better. While it may sound ridiculous, it’s something that so many successful people swear by. If I tell you that Kobe Bryant, Jennifer Aniston, Keanu Reeves and literally thousands of insanely successful people not only do it but swear by it, would you really not want to join them? If you want an easy way to give it a shot, I really recommend checking out the Headspace app.
Coming to terms with roommates
If you’ve been landed with a noisy room-mate, the least productive thing you can do is try and just put up with them. People come in all shapes and sizes, but at the end of the day, everyone wants to be a good person. Sometimes, we just don’t realize when we’re doing wrong. The key to living with anyone is communication. If your roommate is doing something which makes your life harder, tell them so. To you, the 1am Netflix and cookie sessions may make getting to sleep impossible, but they may have come from a noisy household and are used to sleeping through foghorn levels of sound. The goal here is setting clear boundaries.
This doesn’t mean suddenly demanding lights out at 10pm. Instead, explain to your roommate how they are negatively affecting you. This works even better if you do two extra things. First, let them know how this makes you feel (frustrated, disrespected, upset – etc.). Second, show them how you’ve already tried to fix it yourself (I’ve been using ear plugs and exercising, but it’s not helping). The combination of both of these should help them empathize with you, and likely they’ll want to help. Offer to come up with some compromises, and make sure to thank them when they are more thoughtful in the future.
If you are new to staying with each other, it also may just need a little time. When you first move in you need to adjust to a new sleeping environment, which may happen naturally with some time. It’s incredible what people can sleep through when we’re used to noise! This is especially true if you’ve come from a quiet bedroom sleeping alone. That said, don’t put up with any bullshit! There’s a line between acceptable night-time noise and laughing maniacally at vine compilations on YouTube.
If some time has passed and communicating isn’t working, unfortunately the remaining action is to talk to your RA. Do not feel bad if you need to do this. Your education (and future) are worth much more than the feelings of a self-centered roommate (provided you tried to fix it with them first!). Seriously, don’t be afraid to kick-up a bit of a fuss if it means a better living situation for the rest of the year.
Come up with a routine, and stick with it! A big part of getting to sleep is your body being prepared to let it happen. Go to bed at (roughly) the same time every night, and follow the same order of steps as you do it. If every night you tidy up a little, prepare clothes for the next day, go through your bathroom routine, and climb into bed with a book – there will be no question for your subconscious about what’s about to happen. Routines are the best way to ‘talk’ to your subconscious mind.
Following the same steps lets it know that no, it’s not time to think repeatedly about that one thing you said to your crush, but instead it’s time to chill-out, rest up, and sleep well.