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How to Get Better Sleep in a Shared Dorm Room

roommates lounging in dorm room

roommates lounging in dorm room

Dorm rooms defy every rule of healthy sleep in the book. You live and eat and study in the same room that you are supposed to get five hours of recuperative sleep. And you're doing this right next to a total stranger who lives, eats, studies, and sleeps differently than you do. To top it off, you're only a few feet from dozens of other students doing the same thing with their radios and loud footsteps and showers and unidentifiable smells surrounding you. 

So yeah, it can be a little hard to sleep in the dorm. You might have inconveniently sunny windows, a disruptive roommate, or just lie in bed thinking about class and homework instead of falling asleep. And when you can't sleep, your health and your grades ultimately pay the price. 

Health Risks of Bad Dorm Sleep

Poor sleep has a surprising number of negative side effects on your health. Bad sleep can make you more likely to get sick, which can be a problem in the dorms. Poor sleep can make it difficult to focus, which can impact your grades and even how safe you are driving or bicycling on the road. You may start to experience headaches.

Depression, a condition often found in dorm life, is also caused by poor sleep. So if you're feeling depressed, it could be because you can't get a full restful 8 hours. Many of the conditions blamed on college stress are the result of poor dorm room sleep.

  • Poor Focus
  • Poor Short Term Memory
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Heart Failure
  • Depression
  • Weight Change
  • Skin Aging
  • Poor Judgement

What Makes Dorm Sleep Challenging

It's no surprise that many college students have sleeping problems in the dorms. The common causes of poor sleep abound. Sleeping in the same room that you work always makes drifting off difficult. Unfamiliar light changes from the widows and unfamiliar sounds from nearby students can also be disruptive.

Very commonly, you're dealing with an uncomfortable bed. Dorms are often furnished with a cot or bunk and a thin basic mattress. If the bed or your college bedding is uncomfortable, you won't sleep. And if your roommate is too disruptive, it can be nearly impossible to drift into dreamland comfortably.

  • Work & Sleep in the Same Room
  • Uncomfortable Bunk or Cot
  • Unfamiliar Light Changes
  • 24/7 Sounds
  • Roommates
  • Uncomfortable Heat or Cold

Ways to Improve Dorm Room Sleep

Hang Curtains

If extra sunlight is a problem for sleeping, hang curtains. There are several ways to hang curtains or pin-up window coverings that work in a dorm. Use any method possible to cover your windows, or at least the top half of your windows, to block direct sunlight from interrupting your sleep.

Curtains or blinds can also give you greater control over how much sunlight gets in for sunny afternoons of studying and the ability to sleep in when your schedule permits.

Improve Your Bedding

Consider the bedding you moved in with. It might be old linen closet bedding or ill-fitting bedding from your differently sized bed at home. Many people move in with fresh out-of-the-package sheets, which aren't always ideally comfortable. And when you're trying to sleep in a dorm, you need the bed to be optimally comfortable and sleep-welcoming.

If you have brand new bedding, try washing it three or four times to soften it. If you have old or uncomfortable bedding, consider investing in something new. A nice smooth percale weave or wicking microfiber make great dorm sheets. But ultimately, you need something you want to fall into every night and wrap yourself into sleep. Comfy bedding is the key to sleeping anywhere in the world.

Get a New Mattress

Along the same lines, put some thought into the mattress. Using the provided mattress may not be your best bet. Consider getting a new one that can easily sit in the same frame and checking your old mattress in with the front desk. Your sleeping problem might just be that the provided dorm mattress is thin, lumpy, or otherwise too uncomfortable for deep and restful sleep. A new mattress can transform your semester experience by making your bed a welcoming place to fall asleep.

Clean Up Before Bed

One of the biggest psychological barriers to sleep is working, eating, and sleeping in the same room. You need a mental divider between day stuff and sleep time. A good way to do this in a tiny dorm is to clean up the room before bed. Even if your roommate doesn't participate, you can put away your laptop, take out the trash, wipe your desk, and anything else that means 'end of the day' for you before heading to bed.

Then make your bed and think happy sleep thoughts. You may want to shower or change into pajamas to further prepare your mind to sleep instead of think.

Wear Earplugs and an Eyemask

Sleeping deeply isn't always easy, especially in a new place. The light that comes and goes and the sounds that come from other students can disrupt those few precious hours scheduled for sleep. If you need to sleep between 10 PM and 4 AM every day, then you need to sleep during that time.

Earplugs and an eye mask can make a huge difference for how well you can block out the rest of the world to sleep. Just by wearing eye coverings and putting foam plugs in your ears, you might finally find the sleeping bliss you seek.

Use a Small Fan

Air circulation can matter a surprising amount. If your dorm room suffers from stagnant air or irregular heating/cooling, then you may have trouble sleeping. Try using a small personal fan mounted on your desk or a shelf pointed at the bed. Increased air circulation can significantly increase your comfort when sleeping. The sound of the fan can also help you start to fall asleep and drown out other little noises.

Approved Air Fresheners

Does your dorm smell funky? Dorm smells are a part of college life only spoken of in private. It may be someone's dinner, their soap, or a smell that came with everything from their home. So you don't want to be insensitive, but unusual smells might be waking you up in the night. The natural solution is a small air freshener inside the room or even very close to your bed.

Be sure to use a type of air freshener that is safe and approved in your dorm room.

White Noise Options

White noise can drown out other small sounds nearby, making it easier to sleep through the night. A fan, for example, is a good source of white noise. If your roommate is interested, you could collaborate on a white noise generator between sleeping hours. Even a soft whooshing from your laptop can make a difference and improve sleep. 

Work With Your Roommate

Finally, talk to your roommate. If they're also having trouble sleeping, you can work together to make the room more sleep-positive during your shared resting hours. And even if they sleep like a baby, most roommates will compromise one a few things so you can catch some Zs. Just be willing to meet in the middle.

If you want lights-out times, consider stocking clip-lights or big flashlights for your roommate to use in the dark. And if you get up earlier than your roommate, be willing to dress and creep out the door in respect of their good Zs.

Here at Nest Bedding, we believe in great sleep no matter where you are. Dorm rooms typically have twin-sized or full-sized mattresses, and with the right bedding and bedtime prep, your sleep could be deep and restful no matter how crazy college and classes might be. For more on how to find the right sheets, pillows, blankets, and even a replacement mattress for your dorm room, contact us today! Or check out more articles on the sleep dr blog to learn more interesting sleep tips and facts.