When you hear the word college, sleep is probably the last thing that comes to mind. College students are notorious for pulling all-nighters before exams, socializing into the wee hours, and skimping on sleep in favor of other priorities.
Whether the cause is the pursuit of academic excellence or a packed schedule of extracurriculars, college students get less than seven hours of sleep almost 50% of the time. They go to bed the latest at more rigorous schools and get up earliest at military academies like West Point. Even the choice of major makes a difference when it comes to slumber. Anthropology majors get the most sleep, whereas architecture and computer science students get the least.
But there are some colleges where students are bucking the trend and getting healthy sleep. Though it’s difficult to find a college where students regularly get the eight hours of Zzz’s recommended for their age group, some institutions rate highly on several crucial sleep-related metrics. As a result, their students sleep better, and may enjoy improved physical and academic health as a result.
We analyzed colleges nationwide to come up with our list of Best and Worst Colleges for Sleep. Our comprehensive guide can help you find a school where a good night’s rest is conducive to college life. We’ll also tell you how to make the most of your sleep time and develop solid slumber habits that will benefit you for a lifetime.
We chose our best and worst colleges for sleep using key health and sleep-related factors. We started with a list of colleges that already boast a pretty well-slept population — on average, the students get around seven hours of sleep each night. Then we tied in some other important metrics, including obesity rates, average number of steps taken per day, air quality, and body mass index (BMI).
Why did we choose these metrics in particular? We looked at the latest research and found a strong connection between sleep and certain behaviors and environmental factors. For example:
- Obesity. Obesity rates are linked to a higher risk of sleep apnea, which interrupts sleep and can cause daytime sleepiness, irritability, and cardiovascular disease (1) Obesity can also contribute to insomnia and other sleep disorders such as hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) and restless legs syndrome
- Body Mass Index (BMI). A higher BMI is associated with less sleep, while a lower BMI is associated with more sleep, particularly in the college-age population. (2) This link could be due to increased inflammation in people with a higher BMI, problems regulating insulin and other digestive hormones, or lower physical activity
- Exercise. More steps taken per day usually equals better sleep. Studies reveal a consistent link between regular exercise and more efficient, restful sleep. (3) Decades of studies demonstrate the positive effect of exercise on deep sleep and stress levels
- Air Quality. The quality of your air impacts the quality of your sleep. Air pollution increases the risk of asthma, allergies, and sleep apnea, all of which can disrupt sleep. In fact, research shows that people who live in the most heavily polluted areas are 60% more likely to suffer from sleep problems
Top Ten Best Colleges for Sleep
Here it is — our list of stand-out colleges for sleep. Massachusetts is the big winner on this list, holding down eight of the top ten spots. Why? State obesity rates are relatively low, and many residents get regular aerobic exercise. Air pollution is moderate compared to many other states, and the body mass index of Massachusetts residents is one of the healthiest in the country.
- Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts (Sleep Score: 7.73)
Students at this picturesque “Little Ivy” in the suburbs of Boston get the best sleep of any on our list. Though they tend to hit the hay later than students at many other colleges, they manage to get 7.01 hours of sleep a night. Not the eight hours recommended by experts, but more than many of their peers. They also get almost the ideal amount of exercise and have a favorable average BMI compared to students at other schools, which contributes to their strong slumber numbers.
- Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts (Sleep Score: 7.71)
Harvard students snooze just down the road from Tufts, and actually beat their rivals by a few minutes of sleep a night. So why the lower sleep score? A tad less exercise may make their sleep less efficient, and their average BMI is a touch higher. They also get less sleep on weekends, bringing down their average overall. Still an impressive showing in a state filled with students who know how to sleep.
- Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts (Sleep Score: 7.67)
With a total sleep time of just under seven hours a night, Northeastern students grab third place on our list. They wake up earlier than students at the top two colleges, and go to sleep a good twenty minutes earlier, as well. Their average BMI is higher, so we knocked down their score a few notches for that. They also take fewer steps on the weekends, which may affect their sleep quality and general health.
- Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts (Sleep Score: 7.63)
With alumni like Doug Flutie and Amy Poehler, Boston College boasts an interesting and diverse student population. Their students come in second for sleep time, but their total sleep score brings them to number four on our list. Why? It all comes down to exercise. BC students take fewer steps on weekdays and weekends, which makes them more likely to suffer from inefficient or disrupted sleep.
- Cambridge College, Cambridge, Massachusetts (Sleep Score: 7.59)
Cambridge College, a private college for adult education, ranks number five on our list. A range of class schedules may be why its students get more shut-eye than any others on our list, even though many Cambridge College students work or have families. Their average sleep and wake time is among the earliest of all the students in our top ten, but they exercise significantly less. Though this may be due to busy work and school schedules, it does bring down the school’s overall sleep score.
- University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont (Sleep Score: 7.57)
Heading north, our next school is located in one of the cleanest cities in the country, Burlington. UV students average some of the earliest sleep and wake times, giving them a total sleep time of 7.2 hours on weekdays. They don’t do quite as well as some of their neighbors to the south on exercise or BMI, though. which explains why they rank at number six.
- California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California (Sleep Score: 7.57)
Swinging out to the west coast, we find California Polytechnic State University, or Cal Poly for short. San Luis Obispo is one of the country’s cleanest cities, boosting Cal Poly’s score as a school for healthy sleepers. Less exercise on weekends and higher state obesity rates bring Cal Poly’s score to number seven.
- Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts (Sleep Score: 7.55)
BU’s 18,000 students log less total sleep time than those at Tufts and Harvard, snoozing just under seven hours a night. Freshmen are required to live on campus, which may make sleep challenging for some students. BU students take fewer steps overall and have a slightly higher BMI, but still sleep well enough to land in our top ten.
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts (Sleep Score: 7.55)
Judging by their average bedtime of 1:08 am (1:45 am on weekends!), the students at MIT are true night owls. They spend the least amount of time in bed of any students on our list, but still manage to sleep almost seven hours a night. Though they exercise about as much as students at other top schools, their late snooze time keeps MIT students from rising higher on our list.
- University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts (Sleep Score: 7.47)
Located ninety miles from Boston in Western Massachusetts, the bucolic setting of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst seems designed for a good night’s sleep. So how do the school’s students stack up against others when it comes to slumber? They sleep a few minutes longer than students at MIT, but still average less than seven hours a night during the week. Exercise and BMI metrics are in the ballpark with other schools, but less sleep on weekends keeps UMass Amherst students squarely in the number ten spot.
Top Five Worst Colleges for Sleep
Let’s take the five worst colleges for sleep in reverse order. Remember — total sleep time is just one factor we take into consideration. Air quality, BMI, and other health-related metrics all contribute to our final ranking. Now, on to the bottom five.
- Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas (Sleep Score: 3.24)
Students at Texas Christian University may sleep about seven hours nightly, but they do it in one of the country’s most polluted cities. State obesity rates are also sky-high, increasing the chance that students here are grappling with asthma or sleep apnea. On the plus side, Texas Christian University students get a fair number of steps in every day and do a good job of sleeping in on weekends.
- University of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi (Sleep Score: 3.21)
The University of Mississippi — or “Ole Miss” — is the state’s largest university. Students here rack up some respectable sleep time: 7.12 hours on weekdays and 7.55 on weekends. So, what accounts for their position in the bottom five? The state is number two in the nation for obesity. That, along with lower rates of regular exercise, puts the Ole Miss student body at higher risk of obesity-related sleep issues.
- Rice University, Houston, Texas (Sleep Score: 3.16)
Rice University gets high marks for academics, but low marks for sleep. Not only do Rice students sleep just 6.94 hours on weeknights, but their school is located in one of the most polluted cities in the US. Add in a high state obesity ranking and only moderate rates of exercise, and you’ve got the number three school on our bottom five list.
- Mississippi State University, Starkville, Mississippi (Sleep Score: 3.07)
Students at Mississippi State University sleep less than seven hours each night on average, but that’s not the only reason they’re at number two. They take fewer steps than students at many of our top-ranked colleges and live in a state where almost 40% of the population is obese. Both obesity and lower rates of exercise make it more likely that Mississippi State students have trouble sleeping due to sleep disorders, poor fitness, or high BMI. This combination of factors puts MSU near the bottom of our list of sleep-friendly schools.
- West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia (Sleep Score: 3.07)
Number one on our list of Top Five Worst Colleges for Sleep is West Virginia University. Though students here sleep around seven hours each night, they take several thousand fewer steps than students at many of the colleges on our list (just 6500 steps on weekends). Poor exercise habits combined with the nation’s highest rate of obesity puts West Virginia University students at high risk of obstructive sleep apnea and other obesity-related illnesses, such as diabetes. These conditions can negatively influence sleep and academic performance, both essential to well-being and success during the college years.
Our Complete List of Colleges
Didn’t see your college in the top ten or bottom five? Check out our complete list of colleges and the metrics we used, including overall sleep scores, total sleep times, and other important slumber-related factors.
|Universities||Sleep Score||Sleep Time||City Air Quality||Steps||State Obesity|
|Tufts University – Medford, MA||7.73||7.01||9733||25.7|
|Harvard University – Cambridge, MA||7.71||7.02||9605||25.7|
|Boston College – Chestnut Hill, MA||7.63||7.11||8773||25.7|
|Cambridge College – Cambridge, MA||7.59||7.25||8219||25.7|
|University of Vermont||7.57||7.2||Cleanest City||8470||27.5|
|California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo, CA||7.57||7.03||Cleanest City||8192||26.9|
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology||7.55||6.84||9249||25.7|
|University of Massachusetts Amherst||7.47||6.86||8769||25.7|
|Syracuse University||7.22||6.87||Cleanest City||7878||27.6|
|Yale University – New Haven, CT||7.22||7.01||9688||27.4|
|Brown University – Providence, RI||7.21||7.13||9741||27.7|
|University of Buffalo - SUNY||7.08||6.76||Cleanest City||7447||27.6|
|Santa Clara University||6.97||6.97||7707||26.9|
|UC Santa Cruz||6.95||6.87||8029||26.9|
|University of Connecticut – Storrs, CT||6.92||7.03||8170||27.4|
|Army / Navy / Coast Guard||6.86||6.38||9655||27.4|
|University of Colorado – Denver, CO||6.82||7.21||Most Polluted City||7976||23|
|University of California, Santa Barbara||6.81||6.88||7289||26.9|
|American University – Washington, DC||6.77||7.16||9011||28.7|
|George Washington University – Washington, DC||6.77||7.04||9193||28.7|
|Georgetown University – Washington, DC||6.73||7||9203||28.7|
|Stony Brook University - SUNY||6.72||7.04||7327||27.6|
|UC Davis, University of California||6.71||6.75||7184||26.9|
|University of California Irvine||6.71||6.73||7175||26.9|
|University of Virginia||6.7||7.06||Cleanest City||8865||30.4|
|University of Denver – Denver, CO||6.7||7.07||Most Polluted City||7845||23|
|Dartmouth College – Hanover, NH||6.66||7.04||10045||29.6|
|The College of William and Mary – Williamsburg, VA||6.58||7.12||Cleanest City||8105||30.4|
|University of Rochester||6.56||6.91||6943||27.6|
|University of Southern California||6.49||6.86||8198||26.9|
|University of New Hampshire – Durham, NH||6.44||7.33||8137||29.6|
|Virginia Commonwealth University||6.44||6.85||Cleanest City||8234||30.4|
|Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute||6.44||6.82||6749||27.6|
|Florida State University – Tallahassee, FL||6.31||7.13||Cleanest City||7225||30.7|
|University of Florida – Gainesville, FL||6.31||7.01||Cleanest City||7631||30.7|
|University of South Florida – Tampa, FL||6.27||7.13||Cleanest City||7046||30.7|
|University of Minnesota||6.17||6.99||8506||30.1|
|Arizona State University||6.17||6.86||7990||29.5|
|The University of Arizona||6.13||6.95||7646||29.5|
|Oregon State University – Corvallis, OR||6.13||7.12||7609||29.9|
|Air Force Academy||5.06||6.47||8927||29.5|
|Wake Forest University – Winston-Salem, NC||5.98||7.12||Cleanest City||9040||33|
|University of Miami||5.97||6.98||8390||30.7|
|Penn State University||5.89||6.94||8533||30.9|
|Virginia Tech University||5.86||6.83||7784||30.4|
|University of Maryland||5.81||6.96||8111||30.9|
|DePaul University – Chicago, IL||5.78||7.17||8690||31.8|
|George Mason University||5.78||6.91||7167||30.4|
|University of Wisconsin Madison – Madison, WI||5.68||7.08||8675||32|
|University of San Diego||5.67||7.22||Most Polluted City||8139||26.9|
|San Diego State University – San Diego, CA||5.63||7.02||Most Polluted City||8539||26.9|
|University of California, Los Angeles||5.61||6.84||Most Polluted City||8757||26.9|
|Michigan State University – East Lansing, MI||5.6||7||Cleanest City||7520||33|
|New York University||5.58||6.85||Most Polluted City||9685||27.6|
|Marquette University – Milwaukee, WI||5.46||7.02||7799||32|
|San José State University||5.45||6.87||Most Polluted City||7994||26.9|
|San Francisco State University||5.43||6.94||Most Polluted City||7716||26.9|
|Illinois State University||5.42||6.88||7734||31.8|
|University of California San Diego||5.37||6.85||Most Polluted City||7604||26.9|
|University of Nebraska – Lincoln, NE||5.35||7.1||Cleanest City||7712||34.1|
|University of Utah – Salt Lake City, UT||5.34||7.11||Most Polluted City||7990||27.8|
|Miami University – Oxford, OH||5.34||7.12||Cleanest City||7258||34|
|University of Michigan||5.3||6.92||8684||33|
|University of South Carolina – Columbia, SC||5.27||7.14||Cleanest City||7432||34.3|
|University of Georgia||5.27||6.99||7603||32.5|
|Columbia University||5.26||6.68||Most Polluted City||8718||27.6|
|University of North Carolina System||5.24||6.95||8414||33|
|University of Delaware – Newark, DE||5.19||7.11||8344||33.5|
|Case Western Reserve University||5.18||6.71||Cleanest City||7700||34|
|The University of Texas at Austin||5.18||6.88||Cleanest City||8467||34.8|
|University of Missouri||5.16||7.06||Cleanest City||8147||35|
|Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah||5.12||6.79||Most Polluted City||7854||27.8|
|University of Iowa – Iowa City, IA||5.11||7.14||Cleanest City||8058||35.3|
|University of Washington||5.11||6.94||Most Polluted City||8828||28.7|
|University of Notre Dame||5.07||6.69||9820||34.1|
|Tulane University – New Orleans, LA||5.04||7.2||Cleanest City||9751||36.8|
|Miami University – Oxford, OH||5.02||7.12||8159||34|
|North Carolina State University – Raleigh, NC||5||7.04||6820||33|
|Iowa State University||4.99||6.98||Cleanest City||7854||35.3|
|The Ohio State University||4.98||6.96||8550||34|
|University of Oregon – Eugene, OR||4.97||7.23||Most Polluted City||9074||29.9|
|University of Dayton – Dayton, OH||4.9||7.06||7793||34|
|University of Nevada||4.87||7.21||Most Polluted City||7962||29.5|
|Indiana State University||4.87||6.92||8154||34.1|
|Clemson University – Clemson, SC||4.83||7.13||7700||34.3|
|Auburn University – Auburn, AL||4.72||7.17||Cleanest City||7508||36.2|
|Saint Louis University – Saint Louis, MO||4.7||7.06||8349||35|
|Kansas State University||4.66||6.93||7568||34.4|
|Kansas State University||4.62||6.88||7589||34.4|
|University of Alabama – Tuscaloosa, AL||4.6||7.01||Cleanest City||7348||36.2|
|Tennessee State University||4.6||6.93||7328||34.4|
|Washington University St. Louis||4.6||6.86||8421||35|
|University of Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh, PA||4.53||7.03||Most Polluted City||9003||30.9|
|Texas A&M University||4.52||6.98||7345||34.8|
|Oklahoma State University – Stillwater, OK||4.52||7.02||7334||34.8|
|The University of Oklahoma||4.5||7.01||7234||34.8|
|Loyola University Maryland||4.47||7||Most Polluted City||8702||30.9|
|Johns Hopkins University||4.47||6.96||Most Polluted City||8916||30.9|
|Villanova University – Villanova, PA||4.45||7.06||Most Polluted City||8383||30.9|
|Baylor University, TX||4.44||6.89||7279||34.8|
|University of Nevada, Las Vegas||4.41||6.96||Most Polluted City||6547||29.5|
|University of Pennsylvania||4.41||6.72||Most Polluted City||9167||30.9|
|Texas Tech University, TX||4.38||6.92||6836||34.8|
|University of Arkansas – Fayetteville, AR||4.35||7.15||Cleanest City||7021||37.1|
|Drexel University||4.35||6.83||Most Polluted City||8504||30.9|
|Temple University||4.35||6.86||Most Polluted City||8459||30.9|
|Carnegie Mellon||4.31||6.78||Most Polluted City||8502||30.9|
|University of Houston, TX||4.3||6.81||6830||34.8|
|University of Chicago||4.18||6.81||Most Polluted City||9215||31.8|
|University of Louisville||4.02||6.94||7708||36.6|
|Louisiana State University||3.9||6.95||7389||36.8|
|Georgia Tech||3.75||6.82||Most Polluted City||8103||32.5|
|Ohio University||3.4||6.93||Most Polluted City||8236||34|
|University of Cincinnati – Cincinnati, OH||3.36||7.03||Most Polluted City||7850||34|
|Texas Christian University – Fort Worth, TX||3.24||7.01||Most Polluted City||8369||34.8|
|University of Mississippi – University, MS||3.21||7.12||7391||39.5|
|Rice University, TX||3.16||6.94||Most Polluted City||8216||34.8|
|West Virginia University – Morgantown, WV||3.07||7||7105||39.5|
Why Sleep Matters
No matter what your age, healthy sleep is important for optimum health. Studies show that poor sleep is associated with lower grades, less social involvement, and a higher risk of mental health issues. (4) Students who report the most disturbed sleep are more likely to suffer from anxiety, suicidal thoughts, feelings of depression, and loneliness.
In addition to mental health, sleep affects the ability to learn and remember concepts. Studies of first-year college students show that academic achievement is strongly linked to healthy sleep, and that sleep is more important than any other factor, including work, religion, social support, and time management. (5)
Sleep also has a profound impact on your physical health. If you haven’t slept enough, you’re more likely to catch a cold or flu and crave simple carbohydrates like sugar. (6) Sleep deprivation impacts your metabolism, making you more likely to gain weight and feel sluggish. Lack of sleep raises your risk of nodding off while in class or while driving, increasing your chance of accident or injury.
Over the long term, poor sleep is associated with dementia, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and clinical depression. Making sleep a priority is essential not only to a good college experience, but to a healthy and happy life.
Good Habits = Good Sleep
College and healthy sleep don’t have to be incompatible. A good night’s sleep starts with good sleep hygiene, a set of actions intended to promote healthy slumber. Good sleep hygiene can help you pinpoint behaviors that contribute to poor sleep and replace them with slumber-friendly habits. (7)
Note: Good sleep hygiene is not a cure for sleep disorders such as chronic insomnia. Chronic insomnia is more effectively treated by the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia protocol (CBT-I), designed specifically for persistent insomnia symptoms. If you’ve suffered from insomnia for three months or longer, see a sleep specialist for diagnosis and treatment.
The good sleep hygiene checklist includes:
- Regular sleep and wake times. Keep your circadian rhythm — your body’s internal clock — regulated by going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day. Set your alarm for the same time on weekdays, and no more than twenty minutes later on weekends
- Not napping. It might be tempting to squeeze in a nap between classes, but napping can reduce your nighttime “sleep drive” and make falling asleep more difficult. Though a brief nap can make you feel more alert, it can throw off your circadian rhythm, especially if you experience occasional insomnia
- Avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed. Alcohol and caffeine can keep you from falling or staying asleep. Drinking alcohol can make you wake up during the night once it wears off. (8) Caffeine blocks the effects of melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone, and adenosine, a neurotransmitter that rises over the course of the day and causes sleepiness. Caffeine can influence sleep even when consumed only in the morning, but is particularly disruptive if you drink it later in the day
- Creating a dark, quiet, and cool sleeping environment. The body is less able to sweat and shiver during sleep, making a cooler room temperature of around sixty-five degrees important for good slumber. Studies show that sleeping with any form of light can raise the risk of depression, obesity, and certain types of cancers. Ideally, all sources of light such as electronics and outlets should be covered before sleeping, and blackout drapes installed to block outside light. Noise is one of the most common causes of interrupted sleep. Noise can be minimized with the use of earplugs, white noise machines, or phone apps that produce a soothing sound
- Turning off your phone, TV, and computer at least an hour before bed. Blue light from electronics like phones and video games acts on the brain in a similar way to sunlight. (9) To keep your circadian rhythm regulated, avoid blue light for at least an hour before bed, or use glasses called “blue blockers” that are designed to block blue light
- Not studying in bed. Avoid associating your bed with thinking or other activities by studying, reading, or watching television in another room or part of your bedroom. Don’t go to bed until you’re ready to sleep, and avoid looking at your phone once you’re in bed
- Exercising regularly in the morning or afternoon. Regular exercise can reduce stress and help you sleep better. (10) Because the body’s core temperature can stay elevated for several hours after exercise and delay sleep, experts suggest exercising in the morning or afternoon
- Avoiding heavy meals before bed. A heavy meal too close to bedtime can cause the digestive system to “wake up” when it should be less active. This can throw off the circadian rhythm and cause fragmented sleep. With the exception of small, high-protein snacks, avoid eating within 2-3 hours of bedtime to give your body enough time to digest
- Getting out of bed if you can’t sleep after twenty minutes. Racing thoughts, physical tension, or an irregular sleep schedule can make falling asleep difficult. If you can’t sleep after twenty minutes, experts recommend getting up and engaging in a quiet activity until you feel sleepy. This will help you avoid associating the bed with anxiety or lying awake
- Beccuti G, Pannain S., Sleep and obesity, Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, July 2011
- Grandner MA, Schopfer EA, Sands-Lincoln M, Jackson N, Malhotra A., The Relationship between Sleep Duration and Body Mass Index Depends on Age, Obesity, December 23, 2015
- Kline CE., The bidirectional relationship between exercise and sleep: Implications for exercise adherence and sleep improvement, American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, Nov-Dec. 2014
- Kathryn M. Orzech PhD , David B. Salafsky MPH & Lee Ann Hamilton MA, CHES, The State of Sleep Among College Students at a Large Public University, Journal of American College Health, August 8, 2011
- Hershner SD, Chervin RD., Causes and consequences of sleepiness among college students, Nature and Science of Sleep, June 23, 2014
- Tanja Lange, Effects of sleep and circadian rhythm on the human immune system, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, April 13, 2010
- Brown FC, Buboltz WC Jr, Soper B., Relationship of sleep hygiene awareness, sleep hygiene practices, and sleep quality in university students, Behavioral Medicine, Spring 2002
- Popovici I, French MT., Binge Drinking and Sleep Problems among Young Adults, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Sep. 1, 2013
- Anne-Marie Chang, Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness, PNAS, Nov. 26, 2014
- M. Dworak, Intense exercise increases adenosine concentrations in rat brain: Implications for a homeostatic sleep drive, Neuroscience, December 19, 2007
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