You Can Sleep When You’re Dead: How To Hack Your Sleep Cycle

Sure, the recommended amount of sleep for college students is 8 hours per night, but if we’re honest with ourselves that’s a fantasy. Now that summer (and the beautiful sleep schedule that it brought with it) is coming to a close, this is your guide to surviving on less than 6 hours of sleep a night.


I was lucky to have a summer job that ended early enough that I could go home for a couple weeks. In theory, I should be spending this time hanging out with my family and friends from home, but the truth is I spend most of my time home sleeping.

I thought I would keep reading a book a week, but every time I sit down on the couch to read I miraculously wake up 3 hours later, the couch cushion imprinted on my cheek and a puddle of drool on it in turn. I’ve been going to bed around 10 and waking up after 8 some days, which in combination with my power naps, have been the purest form what vacation should be.

This sleeping problem has been exacerbated by my decision that this was the time to kick that coffee addiction (it has not been going well). If I don’t get this sleeping under control before school starts, it will be a rude awakening-literally.

Work Your Sleep Cycles

Adult sleep cycles take about 90 minutes to complete, and planning around this schedule can make waking up in the morning a little easier. Rather than your alarm pulling you from the depths of sleep, at the end of a sleep cycle, you feel less groggy when you wake up.

Scheduling your sleeping blocks not only puts a limit on homework time (so Parkinson’s Law doesn’t take over your world), but can increase the amount of time you actually sleep. I plan for 7.5 hours a night (3 sleep cycles), but if work gets a little out of hand (or Gossip Girl dominates my life), then I’m better off with 6 hours than with 6.5 or 7.

Know Your Limits

Last year, I tried to test the limits of my sleepless functioning.

All nighters don’t work for me. I tend to get a little delusional and eat a lot of junk food, so needless to say, any essay written under those conditions was rough.

One study has shown that sleepy people are actually about as bad at judging how their sleep has affected their performance as drunk people. Subjects that had 5-hours of sleep a night for two weeks straight were convinced they were totally fine and had trained themselves to sleep less, but their scores kept getting worse.

With those 90 minute sleep cycles, I learned that the minimum sleep I can take a test on is 4.5 hours. I’m also not a ray of sunshine after a nap that is any shorter than 1.5 hours.

Be Consistent

Research says that by training your body to wake up at the same time every day, it makes it easier to wake up at that time, regardless of how much sleep you’ve had. Your body actually uses the sleep time more efficiently.

If you had an extra fun weekend, it’s better to make up the sleep in a nap later in the day rather than sleeping until 12. Most adults are better off taking naps in the afternoon for between 30 and 60 minutes, any longer and research suggests that people will enter a deeper sleep that leaves them groggy. Although that isn’t the way it works for me personally, it has been shown that people who take these short naps are more alert during the day and sleep less at night.

By waking up at the same time every day (even on the weekends), you’ll be better off for those days you really do need to make it to your 9 AM.


Although you can’t live without sleep (no matter how hard I try), you can use these tricks to make waking up a little easier and to keep you more alert for longer. I haven’t quite kicked my coffee addiction, but I hope this will help me keep it down to a cup a day.

How do you deal with the unpredictable sleep schedule that school brings?

Let me know in the comments or on Instagram

Hello! My name is Rosana Rabines! I'm a student, stationery enthusiast, and runner constantly reorganizing my life to make the most of my college experience in Chicago.


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