Tips for Better Sleep
To Sleep or Not to Sleep?
You planned on catching up on your sleep once you got to college. Now that you’ve settled into your college schedule, you wonder:
How much sleep do you really need?
What can you do to fall asleep?
How can you stay asleep?
How do you get back to sleep when you wake up?
What do you do if you’re sleeping ALL the time?
Scientists who study people sleeping have shown that people sleep in several 90 minute cycles. Each cycle starts with light sleep, moves to deeper sleep, goes back to light sleep and ends with a REM (rapid eye movement) stage. People dream during the REM stage. Most of our muscles are paralyzed during REM sleep. That’s why people don’t act out their dreams. REM sleep is actually crucial for learning and for regulating mood. So, when people are sleep deprived, their brains have to work harder than when they are well rested.
Many people experience insomnia (an abnormal inability to sleep) at some time in their lives. The most common cause of insomnia is a change in routine. Insomnia can also be triggered by stress, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, drugs or medications, illness or depression.
Getting 6-8 hours less sleep than usual over a week’s time can slow your reaction time, make it more difficult to concentrate and cause depression, irritability and anxiety. A study published in Nature (January 2004) showed that volunteers taking a simple math test were 3 times more likely to discover a hidden rule for converting the numbers to the right answer if they took the test after sleeping for 8 hours, as compared to the sleep deprived group.
TIPS for BETTER SLEEP:
The best way to fall asleep and stay asleep for 6-8 hours is to stick to the same schedule most of the time. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends, even if you feel like you didn’t get enough sleep. Most people can’t make up for lost sleep by marathon sleeping on the weekends. Most of us require 6-8 hours of sleep every night. Pulling an all-nighter may affect your sleep schedule for a week or more.
- Do the same thing every night before going to bed. A routine like brushing your teeth, washing your face, reading a book … really will help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Use your bedroom only for sleep. This might be tough when your only living area is your dorm room. Try to make the bed every morning and turn down the covers only when you’re ready to go to sleep. Don’t eat, talk or text on the phone, watch TV or use the computer when the covers are down.
- If your bedroom is not dark and quiet, try using a fan to provide some "white noise." Some students find ear plugs or eye masks helpful.
- If you’ve tried all of the above and still can’t fall asleep within 30 minutes, don’t lie there waiting. Get up and go to another room. Sit quietly for 20 minutes, then go back to bed. Repeat as many times as you need. Don’t watch TV, use the computer or the phone - the stimulation will only keep you awake.
- Don’t worry while in bed. Schedule a time to worry into your day, maybe right after dinner. Consider keeping a "worry journal" or a "to do" list.
- Don’t eat right before going to bed.
- Drinking fluid in the evening may result in repeated trips to the bathroom in the wee, wee hours of the morning. However, the tryptophans in a glass of warm milk help release the brain hormone serotonin which causes sleepiness.
- Drinking alcohol within 6 hours of bedtime will shorten the time spent in the deeper stages of sleep. It will also cause you to wake up more often during the night.
- What do coffee, chocolate, tea, soda and drinks like "Red Bull" have in common? That’s right – Caffeine. Drinking caffeine 3-6 hours before bedtime can double the time it takes to fall asleep and quadruple the number of times you wake up during the night.
- Avoid Nicotine. Smokers have withdrawal symptoms at night. Most smokers have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep.
- Daily exercise can shorten the time it takes to fall asleep and improve the quality of your sleep. Try not to exercise too close to bedtime.
- Keep your room slightly cool. A lower body temperature promotes sleep.
- Sleep only at night. If you must nap, limit yourself to 20 minute power naps.
- Avoid sleeping pills. Regular use of sleeping pills can cause rebound insomnia when you stop taking them.
When should you ask for help if you’re having trouble sleeping?
You should schedule an appointment to talk to a health care provider if:
- Sleep problems are interfering with school, work or your relationships.
- Insomnia lasts more than a week.
- You feel sad, nervous, are in pain or have a change in your medications.
- You’re using sleeping pills to help you sleep or uppers or speed to keep you awake.
- Someone tells you that you stop breathing during the night (possible sleep apnea).
By: Patrice Levinson, NP