Alaska Sleep Education Center

Balancing Sleep with Grad School

Posted by Stefanie Leiter

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on May 26, 2018 8:16:00 AM

For more than 17 years, you have studied from elementary school straight through four years of college. But graduate school brings its own challenges even if the 17 years have paved the way to success especially the four years of undergraduate studies.

What has changed is the trade: the trade for dorm life to paying rent; the trade for a a few classes a week to working 8 hours a day; the trade for single life to possibly family life with kids; and the trade for those frequent college naps to barely getting in the normal 7-9 hours needed to sustain.

According to Northern Illinois University professor psychologist Dr. Larissa Barber, “sleep is the single most important health behavior we engage in.”

So if sleep is the single most important health behavior to engage in, sleep during stressful years of graduate classes and studying should be at the forefront of mind.

"I would say that graduate school is probably the ultimate self-regulatory exercise," Barber said. "Almost every critical performance outcome in graduate school requires self-regulatory resources, or energy."

In 2013, Grad Hacker Industries, Inc. published a list of reasons to avoid cramming sessions to focus more on restful, consistent sleeping habits while in school.


  • Decreased quality and accuracy of work
  • Inability to think and judge clearly
  • Reduced ability to make decisions, particularly ones that require both emotional and mental thought
  • Diminished memory of important details

With a decrease in routines and an increase in late nights, you will not successfully earn your graduate degree by lacking sleep in the process. And not just earning your degree but earning potential mentors and network connections along the way.

Though not a comprehensive list, here are some quick tips to enact prior to day one of graduate school to ensuring a successful experience.

Avoid Screen Time at Bedtime

Blue light from screen time is becoming a problem as more cell phones are bedside. Keep a consistent routine so you are done writing your paper, researching your sources, or chatting on forums with classmates.

Pick a bedtime each night and stick to it. Set an alarm on your phone -- as ironic as it sounds -- to keep you to a schedule.

Research shows that staying up 17-19 consecutive hours is “similar to having a blood alcohol limit over the legal limit. So, working late at night is like writing a paper while drunk. You're better off waking up early and starting on it first thing in the morning.”

Try yoga or meditation or reading prior to bed to unwind. While thumbing through Facebook or Twitter, your mind stays active and has a harder time adjusting to entering the REM cycle. It also equates the bed as a place to be on a screen instead of a restful haven for some needed z’s away from school stress.

Exercise Regularly

Remember back to undergraduate days where the freshman 15 was real. Without parents guiding your decisions and late night fast food trips, it was easy to gain weight. Throw in a career and family with graduate school provides even more opportunities to gain weight.

It is no secret exercise is good for the body but it is equally good for sleep. A study in Psychology Today studied a group for 16 weeks: one sedentary group and one exercising group with four 30-minute session per week. The researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine were careful to not just study the effects of exercise on sleep, but also the effects of sleep on exercise.

“After 16 weeks, the exercise group had improved sleep significantly and across several measures of sleep, including sleep duration and sleep quality, as well as daytime sleepiness. The exercisers also reported improvements to their moods and to their quality of life,” reported author and clinical psychologist Dr. Michael J. Breus.

Exercise will help break the required papers, readings, lectures, and research opening the mind. Squeeze in the routine a few hours prior to bedtime to maximize the time to repair muscles and recover the body.

Eat Healthier

With an inability to avoid snacking, plan out your meals ahead of time to create a healthy eating environment. Even if you start out strong a class may sideline the healthy eating if more challenging than the last.

Psychology Today offers this piece of advice: “Avoid caffeinated drinks at least 4 hours before bedtime. This includes the obvious culprits like coffee, but also includes chocolate milk, certain teas, and some vitamin drinks.”


Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Keep healthy snacks like nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Pre-package your snacks to avoid binge-eating during a study session. Plan out each meal to avoid the drive-thru.

Apps like eMeals not only help with clean eating or even kid-friendly plans for example, but creates the shopping list on the app. And for an extra timesaver, eMeals can send the shopping list directly to online shopping like Kroger’s Clicklist or Walmart’s new online shopping.

All can lead to a healthier lifestyle that is easy to maintain during those long days.

Eliminate Alcohol

An easy stress reliever for many is a go-to glass of wine or night out with friends. But with increased pressure and stress from adding a graduate schedule of classes to your already full calendar, you are not doing yourself any favors by drinking alcohol.

Now is the time for healthy, clean eating with regular exercise to help the body repair and recover along the way. Sleeping it off after some drinks with friends during a late night bar crawl will inhibit your studies.

Impossible? For some it may be. Make certain to take a good hard look at your social drinking habits to make your time for graduate studies productive time.


Searching for answers?

Maybe you had some issues prior to rejoining the college-paced, daily grind and had issues with insomnia, snoring, or restless nights that have become a vicious cycle affecting your studies. If you fall into this category, contact the Alaska Sleep Clinic. Free consultations are available and help is a quick phone call away.

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Topics: school, sleep hygiene, college

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