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Juggling Sport, Sleep and Study: When I Realized Athletes Sleep Differently

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Here is a little story from my first semester at college.

I was in the library with a couple of classmates working on a group project, and I referenced a topic that had been discussed in class.

“I don’t remember that,” my groupmate said.

“We talked about it in class last Friday,” I responded, hoping she would remember.

“Oh, that’s why I don’t know it. I don’t go to class on Fridays,” she said, matter of factly.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I go out Thursday nights.”

“Class is at 11,” I said, dumbfounded.

That is when I realized, people don’t sleep in college.

And not just because of partying.

I know people who regularly stay up until 4 am doing homework, taking naps at 2 am so they can keep studying at 5 am, and pull all-nighters before tests.

I can’t possibly imagine doing any of these things.

I run track and field at my university, the University of Pennsylvania. Because I’m an athlete, getting sleep is absolutely crucial to my performance, as well as my mental well being, which is why I make an effort to get at least eight hours of sleep every night.

Most students are shocked when I say this, or can’t believe that I don’t drink coffee or pound energy drinks. They react similarly to how I did to my group partner’s regular Friday hooky.

Getting eight hours of shut-eye every night definitely isn’t easy, but here are some things I do to help manage my sleep as a student-athlete.

Create a bedtime

Having a bedtime routine has been known to be super helpful in terms of falling asleep quicker and getting more quality sleep.

For me though, having a bedtime really helps with time management.

If I don’t set one, I tend to be a bit laxer with getting my work done, knowing that it just has to be done before the next day. When I have a bedtime though, I become much more efficient, because I know I need to get all of my work done before the said time. This works for me because for whatever reason, I’m a person who needs a deadline to really get things done.

Be careful you don’t let having a bedtime create more anxiety for you though. Think of your bedtime as a goal, not a must, because there will definitely be some nights where you have to stay up later to get more school work done. So, the key is not to let yourself get over-anxious for being up later one night. 

You also shouldn’t immediately drop everything you’re doing once your bedtime rolls around. Make sure you get everything you need to do done, especially if it is something important due the next day.

Take Advantage Of Down Time

Throughout the day, I often have little breaks between classes and practice, and I try to take advantage of those times to get extra work done.

I usually pick tasks that I know are achievable in the allotted time I have. Let’s say I have 20 minutes between classes. I am not going to start my final research paper, but maybe I can get a jump on the reading for another class.

This shouldn’t be misconstrued as, “you need to be doing work every waking moment.” It is good to save time in the day for things you enjoy. This will keep your mental health up and make you more efficient when you do need to get stuff done.

Talk To Your Professors

There are going to be times when you get overwhelmed and you simply can’t do everything.

Let’s say you have two tests and a paper due Monday, but you had to spend the entire weekend travelling for the competition. There is almost no chance you get everything done. At least done well.

When this is the case, talk to your professors! In my experience, my professors have been pretty understanding, and have given me extensions or moved tests when I have competitions. Just be sure to give your professor as much notice as possible.

If you’re looking at your schedule, and you realize you have a test on a day you will be travelling for a game or meet a month in advance, it’s better to tell your professor immediately instead of waiting until the day before. It also can’t hurt to let your professor know on the first day of class that you are an athlete and may have some conflicts.

Find What Works For You

These are just suggestions and things that have worked for me. Everyone is different though, so find what works for you!

This will likely take some trial and error, and that’s ok. These aren’t things I figured out right away.

Maybe you will try going to bed early, and realize you are more productive at night, so you stay up later but sleep in more.

Or maybe having a bedtime causes you too much stress and you become less productive.

So find what works for you, and remember that every night won’t be a perfect night’s sleep. Just try the best you can!

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