Clock on top of a calendar

Rate this article and enter to win

It’s the start of a new semester—you’re probably already on top of planning your new class schedule, stocking up on textbooks, and restocking your study snack drawer. But what about your sleep?

Nearly two-thirds of students polled in a recent Student Health 101 survey said that the long break over the holidays screwed up their sleep routine. Refreshing your sleep schedule after a break (where, let’s be real, you probably slept in a lot later than you’ll be able to once class starts again) is just as important to your academic success.

“Sleep routines act like cues for the human circadian rhythm [to] help the body know where it stands,” says Dr. Nate Watson, director of the University of Washington Medicine Sleep Center and former president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. A sleep schedule—aka winding down and going to bed around the same time and waking up at roughly the same time every day—can help your body know when it’s time to go to sleep so you’ll zonk out faster, he explains.

Here’s how to get back on track—and why it’s so important to have a sleep schedule in the first place. 

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep—and, more importantly, consistent sleep—affects everything from your academic performance to your mood and overall health. Sticking to a sleep schedule (aka going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day) “is a tool to help create the best version of yourself,” Dr. Watson says. “It’s an active process of bodily rejuvenation.”

Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule can help you:

“The impact of sleep deprivation on academic performance is like a sprinter wearing ankle weights,” says Dr. Watson. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is especially important—a 2017 study found that college students who had irregular sleep schedules had lower grades than those who stuck to a steady bedtime.

Not getting enough sleep ups your levels of cortisol—aka the stress hormone.

“Chronic short sleep,” defined as regularly getting less than seven hours, shuts down certain immune responses, according to the findings of a 2017 study performed among twins. In other words, keeping a consistent sleep schedule throughout the semester (ideally, where you’re getting at least seven hours of shut-eye every night) can help you fend off the latest virus spreading around campus.

More importantly, setting up (and sticking to) a sleep schedule now can prevent you from having serious sleep problems later, says Dr. Kimberly Cote, director of the sleep research laboratory at Brock University in Ontario, Canada (e.g., having chronic trouble falling asleep or staying asleep and not feeling rested when you wake up in the morning).