I left college for spring break while winter was still in full swing on my campus in Syracuse, NY. Although it was mid-March, the temperatures were well below anything even remotely considered warm and snow covered the ground. To make matters worse, I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks. I was looking forward to going home to Florida not only for better weather, but also because, after one of the most brutal midterm seasons of my college career, I needed a break.

Like many other college students, my sleep schedule throughout the spring semester had been . . . off, to say the least. I found myself staying up all hours of the night to complete assignments, and then after anywhere from two to five hours of sleep, waking up early to finish the work I was too exhausted to complete the night before. Then, after rushing out of my dorm room and trudging into a lecture hall, I had to muster what little energy I had left to stay awake for class, despite being genuinely excited about and interested in the subject matter. And, of course, I coped with the lack of sleep as many other students do — by drinking a lot of coffee.

Although I loved school, felt privileged to be able to sit in a classroom and learn, and was passionate about my classes, I felt like I had no energy left, no time to hand in work and projects that I was actually proud of, and very little motivation to complete the remainder of the semester.

However, that all changed when what I thought would be a week-long trip home turned into a five-month-long stay at my parents’ house because of COVID-19. Although my “extended spring break” was unexpected and a little disappointing, it ended up being exactly what I needed to fix my sleep schedule and prioritize my health.

Once I received the official email from my school that the remainder of the semester would be conducted remotely, I decided that I would use this opportunity to get my sleep schedule, or lack thereof, back on track. With no distractions like roommates or parties for the foreseeable future, I was out of excuses, and it was time to make a change.

First, I decided that since I was back living in my childhood bedroom, it was time to go back to some of my childhood rules. I needed to give myself a bedtime. I told myself that no matter what, I had to be in bed by 10 p.m., with lights out by 10:30 p.m. While I was relieved to start going to bed earlier, I knew that waking up early would be much more difficult. It was all too easy to snooze my alarm every 10 minutes, so I decided to start waking up to natural light instead. I left my blinds and curtains open at night in order to wake up to the bright Florida sun, and after a few days, I found myself naturally jumping out of bed at 7:30 a.m., without any coercion from my various alarms.

I told myself that no matter what, I had to be in bed by 10 p.m., with lights out by 10:30 p.m.

I also created a morning routine so I wouldn’t be tempted to climb right back under the covers. I’d make my bed every morning, go for a walk, and make a to-do list for the day ahead, instead of immediately checking my phone after I woke up.

Now that I was getting at least eight to nine hours of sleep at night and taking full advantage of the daylight hours, I found it much easier to stay focused during my classes and to be productive during the day. During the first half of the semester, I often found myself feeling disappointed in the quality of my work, knowing that I could do better, but after getting more sleep, I was excited to submit projects that I knew I could be proud of. Because my productivity increased, I also found more time to do activities (socially distanced, of course) that made me happy. I had more time to exercise and hang with my family, and I noticed that my mental health also improved.

Although online learning has come with its challenges, I’m thankful that my time at home allowed me to prioritize my health without all of the distractions that come with living on a college campus. After I went back to Syracuse for the fall semester, I made it a priority to continue these habits at school. My friends made fun of me for going to bed so early, and yes, sometimes it was difficult to fall asleep at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night in a college town, but the reward is worth it.

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