Sleep, Study, Sing, Repeat: More Zzzs Lead to More A’s

Sleep, Study, Sing, Repeat: More Zzzs Lead to More A’s

Sleep is an essential element to physical and mental health, yet many students do not have a solid sleep routine. Case studies explore real-life scenarios you may face that can help you make better sleep choices.



“Recent research on college students and sleep indicates that insufficient sleep impacts our health, our moods, our GPA, and our safety. Sleep really matters.” (Health Center, University of Georgia)

When my students are sick with a minor cold or flu, I have long advised them to get more rest and hydration. With the increased stress brought on by the pandemic, it has become necessary to remind university students that rest is imperative for both physical and mental health. 


Sleep, Study, Sing, Repeat

How much sleep do you need? The global data hub Statista reports that 46% of adults worldwide need more than 7 hours of sleep per night. Sleep deprivation can prevent motivation, concentration, and amiability. If you are in college, you are paying to learn, so critical thinking and productivity are as essential as they have ever been in your life. As a voice major, your body is your instrument—and without rest, your instrument will not perform at its best. In short, both your brain and your voice need sleep to function well. When your parents or professors check on you and ask if you are sleeping well, it is because they know you need rest in order to succeed. By improving your sleep habits, you will improve your productivity and get more out of your education. 

In his book The Singer’s Guide to Complete Health, Dr. Anthony F. Jahn includes a sleep chapter written by Rebecca J. Scott. Scott addresses the science surrounding sleep patterns with concise descriptions and informative suggestions for restoring healthy aspects of sleep. For those suffering from insomnia, she offers suggestions for improved sleep. Six important themes emerge that can benefit college students and professors alike:


  1. Create a relaxing evening routine and dim the lights an hour before bedtime—slow down and allow your brain time to shift from its wakeful state to a sleep state.
  2. Stop screen time—power down the phone/laptop/iPad an hour before you go to sleep.
  3. Avoid eating a heavy meal and limit caffeine and alcohol before bed—food activates your digestive system, caffeine stays in your system for 6–10 hours, and alcohol-induced drowsiness leads to poor-quality sleep.
  4. Make your sleep environment comfortable—sleeping in a dark, quiet space that is not too hot or too cold will help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
  5. If you wake in the night and have trouble falling back to sleep, reengage in the relaxing evening routine you’ve established for going to bed. Scott writes, “The goal is to not let yourself lie awake in bed, feeling frustrated.” Reading a chapter or practicing deep, meditative breathing can put you back into a drowsy state.
  6. Wake up at a similar time every day—varying your sleep and wake times can make your insomnia worse. Avoid the snooze button when your alarm goes off—get up and seize the day for better productivity!


The following case studies are examples of how choices for sleep affect well being: “Sleepless Suzy,” “Foggy Fred,” and “Debbie Downer” mimic real-life situations for poor sleep. 

“Sleepless Suzy” feels restless most nights and exhausted most days. She is losing her desire to sing, and her grades are slipping because she is getting behind on assignments. Suzy feels stressed about the pandemic; she is constantly worried about contracting COVID-19 despite taking the recommended precautions. Suzy is restless at night and tries to watch Netflix on her phone with hopes of drifting back to sleep. Sleepless Suzy is not practicing enough because she feels vocally fatigued, she is not getting enough rest, and feels like a terrible student. What can she do?

Exhaustion can be both a symptom of stress and a cause for more stress. This might lead us to ask Suzy which came first: the stress or the exhaustion? Elissa Epel, psychologist at the University of California–San Francisco writes that stress “keeps our mind and our nervous system vigilant, and that uses more energy.” Epel’s research states that when stress disrupts deep sleep, we feel “this chronic subtle uncertainty.… We rely on sleep to recover each day.”

The first thing Suzy can do to help herself get better rest is set a sleep routine. Suzy can prepare for sleep by designating a consistant time each night to power down the electronics, dim the lights in her apartment, take a warm shower, put on clean pajamas, and brush her teeth. Do not reach for the phone, Suzy! Research has been telling us for years that screens in bed will disrupt sleep and melatonin production—the hormone that regulates sleep patterns. This also applies during the day—no screens in bed, whether you are sleeping or lounging or attempting homework. Train your brain that your bed is for one thing: sleep. (Well, maybe for also one other thing if Suzy is in a consensual relationship!) For better sleep, homework, Netflix, social media scrolling, etc., should be done away from your bedroom sanctuary.

When Suzy gets even a few nights of better sleep, she will feel less stressed, and her vocal fatigue should subside. She could plan to practice earlier in the day—breaking an hour of practice into two 30-minute sessions. Shorter bouts of vocalizing are less fatiguing and often prove to be more productive than a single, more lengthy practice session. Planning for sleep and practice will help Suzy feel more rested and less stressed as well as improve her practice habits.

“Foggy Fred” attends class by day and works most evenings in the fast-food industry. He typically gets off work at 9 p.m., showers, eats, and stays up past 1 a.m. finishing his homework. Fred feels like a night owl and doesn’t mind the late hours—but when his alarm rings at 7 a.m., he snoozes until 7:45 a.m., then throws on clothes and arrives late and groggy to his 8 a.m. theory class. Fred tries to make up for lost sleep on the weekends, but continues to feel groggy until later in the day. 

Hitting the snooze button actually tires us more than simply getting up. #SleepMythbusters tells us, “Your body starts preparing to wake almost two hours before you finally open your eyes. By raising your body temperature and releasing chemicals that promote wakefulness, your body and brain are working together to get you up and out of bed. When Fred wakes after his first alarm, his body is already well into this waking process. But when he drifts off after already waking once, his brain and body are more likely to experience what sleep experts call ‘sleep inertia,’ which causes that familiar feeling of drowsiness that can last for hours after you wake.” 

Fred will feel more rested if he designates a slightly earlier bedtime and wakes up with the first alarm. How Fred wakes up is more important than when he wakes. Rising with the alarm will give him more functioning brain power for his first morning class. Then weekends can be a time for catching up on adulting, not just sleeping.

When “Debbie Downer” started college, she had a scholarship and loved to practice for hours every day. It gave her a sense of pride to memorize her music quickly and impress her voice teacher and choir conductor. In her second semester, Debbie’s school, like most schools across the globe, shut down and moved completely online. Her grades slipped because she found it difficult to keep up with her online classes. She stays up late but never seems to accomplish her goals, and she sings only enough to get through her FaceTime voice lessons. She worries about school, but she is withdrawn and misses her friends. Why is Debbie so down? 

Universities across the United States offer free counseling services because mental health is essential for academic success. Debbie’s case might sound familiar to some students. Debbie is experiencing difficulty with online learning, she isn’t getting enough rest, and she feels depressed. Any of these symptoms warrants a call to her university therapist for immediate help. 

Therapy is an opportunity to learn more about your strengths and work on skills to cope with grief or anxiety; it can also help prevent serious harm that can come from self-medicating depressive feelings with harmful activities and substances. Your professors know the hotline number and will not ask personal questions. For all the depressed Debbies out there, please call. Your university communities care about you and want you to feel better.  


More Zzzs

Improving your sleep directly correlates to improving your physical and mental health. When you feel good inside and out, you will have the brain power to study, the will to learn, and the vocal health for optimal singing. When singing is your major, your body is your instrument and taking good care of your body will enable you to sing. As the saying goes, “More Zzzs lead to more As” (the grades AND the high notes). 

Sleep-related self-care is more important than ever as we come out of the pandemic. Getting enough rest will help you manage stress levels and boost productivity. Consistent sleep is restorative and is an important part of maintaining vocal health. 

Christi Amonson

Christi Amonson is a soprano, a stage director, a curious reader/writer, a professor of voice and opera at The College of Idaho, and a curator of food, hugs, and good times for her family.