The Best and Worst Colleges for Sleep

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.

Best and Worst Colleges for Sleep graphic

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.

Our Methodology

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).

Methodology graphic, best and worst colleges article

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.

Best and Worst colleges top schools graphic

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Bottom five graphic, best and worst colleges

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

UniversitiesSleep ScoreSleep TimeCity Air QualityStepsState Obesity
Tufts University – Medford, MA7.737.01973325.7
Harvard University – Cambridge, MA7.717.02960525.7
Northeastern University7.676.96959225.7
Boston College – Chestnut Hill, MA7.637.11877325.7
Cambridge College – Cambridge, MA7.597.25821925.7
University of Vermont7.577.2Cleanest City847027.5
California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo, CA7.577.03Cleanest City819226.9
Boston University7.556.94904425.7
Massachusetts Institute of Technology7.556.84924925.7
University of Massachusetts Amherst7.476.86876925.7
Princeton University7.476.96857425.7
Rutgers University7.236.91735925.7
Syracuse University7.226.87Cleanest City787827.6
Yale University – New Haven, CT7.227.01968827.4
Brown University – Providence, RI7.217.13974127.7
University of Buffalo - SUNY7.086.76Cleanest City744727.6
Stanford University7.016.9812126.9
Santa Clara University6.976.97770726.9
UC Santa Cruz6.956.87802926.9
University of Connecticut – Storrs, CT6.927.03817027.4
Fordham University6.926.97847627.6
Army / Navy / Coast Guard6.866.38965527.4
University of Colorado – Denver, CO6.827.21Most Polluted City797623
Cornell University6.826.81861727.6
University of California, Santa Barbara6.816.88728926.9
American University – Washington, DC6.777.16901128.7
George Washington University – Washington, DC6.777.04919328.7
Claremont Colleges6.756.85949326.9
Georgetown University – Washington, DC6.737920328.7
Stony Brook University - SUNY6.727.04732727.6
UC Davis, University of California6.716.75718426.9
University of California Irvine6.716.73717526.9
University of Virginia6.77.06Cleanest City886530.4
University of Denver – Denver, CO6.77.07Most Polluted City784523
Dartmouth College – Hanover, NH6.667.041004529.6
The College of William and Mary – Williamsburg, VA6.587.12Cleanest City810530.4
University of Rochester6.566.91694327.6
University of Southern California6.496.86819826.9
University of New Hampshire – Durham, NH6.447.33813729.6
Virginia Commonwealth University6.446.85Cleanest City823430.4
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute6.446.82674927.6
Washington State6.416.99760328.7
Florida State University – Tallahassee, FL6.317.13Cleanest City722530.7
University of Florida – Gainesville, FL6.317.01Cleanest City763130.7
University of South Florida – Tampa, FL6.277.13Cleanest City704630.7
University of Minnesota6.176.99850630.1
Arizona State University6.176.86799029.5
The University of Arizona6.136.95764629.5
Oregon State University – Corvallis, OR6.137.12760929.9
Air Force Academy5.066.47892729.5
Wake Forest University – Winston-Salem, NC5.987.12Cleanest City904033
University of Miami5.976.98839030.7
Northwestern University5.926.811037731.8
Penn State University5.896.94853330.9
Virginia Tech University5.866.83778430.4
University of Maryland5.816.96811130.9
DePaul University – Chicago, IL5.787.17869031.8
George Mason University5.786.91716730.4
University of Wisconsin Madison – Madison, WI5.687.08867532
University of San Diego5.677.22Most Polluted City813926.9
San Diego State University – San Diego, CA5.637.02Most Polluted City853926.9
University of California, Los Angeles5.616.84Most Polluted City875726.9
Michigan State University – East Lansing, MI5.67Cleanest City752033
New York University5.586.85Most Polluted City968527.6
Lehigh University5.576.75748730.9
Marquette University – Milwaukee, WI5.467.02779932
San José State University5.456.87Most Polluted City799426.9
San Francisco State University5.436.94Most Polluted City771626.9
Illinois State University5.426.88773431.8
University of California San Diego5.376.85Most Polluted City760426.9
University of Nebraska – Lincoln, NE5.357.1Cleanest City771234.1
University of Utah – Salt Lake City, UT5.347.11Most Polluted City799027.8
Miami University – Oxford, OH5.347.12Cleanest City725834
University of Michigan5.36.92868433
Emory University5.296.94790032.5
University of South Carolina – Columbia, SC5.277.14Cleanest City743234.3
University of Georgia5.276.99760332.5
Columbia University5.266.68Most Polluted City871827.6
University of North Carolina System5.246.95841433
Duke University5.246.88864133
University of Delaware – Newark, DE5.197.11834433.5
Case Western Reserve University5.186.71Cleanest City770034
The University of Texas at Austin5.186.88Cleanest City846734.8
University of Missouri5.167.06Cleanest City814735
Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah5.126.79Most Polluted City785427.8
University of Iowa – Iowa City, IA5.117.14Cleanest City805835.3
University of Washington5.116.94Most Polluted City882828.7
University of Notre Dame5.076.69982034.1
Tulane University – New Orleans, LA5.047.2Cleanest City975136.8
Vanderbilt University5.027.06904934.4
Miami University – Oxford, OH5.027.12815934
North Carolina State University – Raleigh, NC57.04682033
Iowa State University4.996.98Cleanest City785435.3
The Ohio State University4.986.96855034
University of Oregon – Eugene, OR4.977.23Most Polluted City907429.9
University of Dayton – Dayton, OH4.97.06779334
University of Nevada4.877.21Most Polluted City796229.5
Indiana State University4.876.92815434.1
Clemson University – Clemson, SC4.837.13770034.3
Purdue University4.756.76799034.1
Auburn University – Auburn, AL4.727.17Cleanest City750836.2
Saint Louis University – Saint Louis, MO4.77.06834935
Kansas State University4.666.93756834.4
Kansas State University4.626.88758934.4
University of Alabama – Tuscaloosa, AL4.67.01Cleanest City734836.2
Tennessee State University4.66.93732834.4
Washington University St. Louis4.66.86842135
University of Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh, PA4.537.03Most Polluted City900330.9
Texas A&M University4.526.98734534.8
Oklahoma State University – Stillwater, OK4.527.02733434.8
The University of Oklahoma4.57.01723434.8
Loyola University Maryland4.477Most Polluted City870230.9
Johns Hopkins University4.476.96Most Polluted City891630.9
Villanova University – Villanova, PA4.457.06Most Polluted City838330.9
Baylor University, TX4.446.89727934.8
University of Nevada, Las Vegas4.416.96Most Polluted City654729.5
University of Pennsylvania4.416.72Most Polluted City916730.9
Texas Tech University, TX4.386.92683634.8
University of Arkansas – Fayetteville, AR4.357.15Cleanest City702137.1
Drexel University4.356.83Most Polluted City850430.9
Temple University4.356.86Most Polluted City845930.9
Carnegie Mellon4.316.78Most Polluted City850230.9
University of Houston, TX4.36.81683034.8
University of Chicago4.186.81Most Polluted City921531.8
University of Louisville4.026.94770836.6
Louisiana State University3.96.95738936.8
Georgia Tech3.756.82Most Polluted City810332.5
Ohio University3.46.93Most Polluted City823634
University of Cincinnati – Cincinnati, OH3.367.03Most Polluted City785034
Texas Christian University – Fort Worth, TX3.247.01Most Polluted City836934.8
University of Mississippi – University, MS3.217.12739139.5
Rice University, TX3.166.94Most Polluted City821634.8
Mississippi State3.076.86746539.5
West Virginia University – Morgantown, WV3.077710539.5

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)

best and worst colleges for sleep graphic

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

References

  1. Beccuti G, Pannain S., Sleep and obesity, Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, July 2011
  2. 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
  3. Kline CE., The bidirectional relationship between exercise and sleep: Implications for exercise adherence and sleep improvement, American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine,  Nov-Dec. 2014
  4. 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
  5. Hershner SD, Chervin RD., Causes and consequences of sleepiness among college students, Nature and Science of Sleep, June 23, 2014
  6. Tanja Lange, Effects of sleep and circadian rhythm on the human immune system, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, April 13, 2010
  7. 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
  8. Popovici I, French MT., Binge Drinking and Sleep Problems among Young Adults, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Sep. 1, 2013
  9. Anne-Marie Chang, Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness, PNAS, Nov. 26, 2014
  10. M. Dworak, Intense exercise increases adenosine concentrations in rat brain: Implications for a homeostatic sleep drive, Neuroscience, December 19, 2007
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Rose is the Chief Research Officer at Sleepopolis, which allows her to indulge her twin passions for dense scientific studies and writing about health and wellness. An incurable night owl, she loves discovering the latest information about sleep and how to get (lots) more of it. She is a published novelist who has written everything from an article about cheese factories to clock-in instructions for assembly line workers in Belgium. One of her favorite parts of her job is connecting with the best sleep experts in the industry and utilizing their wealth of knowledge in the pieces she writes. She enjoys creating engaging articles that make a difference in people’s lives. Her writing has been reviewed by The Boston Globe, Cosmopolitan, and the Associated Press, and received a starred review in Publishers Weekly. When she isn’t musing about sleep, she’s usually at the gym, eating extremely spicy food, or wishing she were snowboarding in her native Colorado. Active though she is, she considers staying in bed until noon on Sundays to be important research.
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