Your well-being is definitely impacted by sleep! Sleep plays a huge role in the strength of a person’s immune system, ability to cope with stress, and can be an important factor in weight management.  Healthcare providers at Student Health Services take a strong interest in assisting students with sleep concerns.

Many people experience insomnia;  defined as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both, at some point in their lives. Insomnia can be acute (short-term, lasting for days or weeks) or chronic (ongoing, lasting for a month or longer).  Insomnia is common and often is brought on by a change in routine, stress, family pressures, or a traumatic event.  It can also be triggered by caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, drugs, medications, illness, anxiety, or depression.  Internet addiction could play a role. Sometimes the cause is not well understood.  Insomnia can cause daytime sleepiness and a lack of energy.  It can also make you feel anxious, depressed, or irritable.  You may have trouble focusing on tasks, paying attention, learning, and remembering.  Over time, insufficient sleep can cause weight gain, slow reaction time, and even lead to serious consequences such as drowsiness while driving.

Signs and Symptoms of sleep difficulty

Consider scheduling an appointment to talk to a healthcare provider at Student Health Services 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 are using sleeping pills to help you sleep.
  • You are using uppers, speed, or other medication to keep you awake.
  • Someone tells you that you stop breathing during the night (possible sleep apnea).

Tips for better sleep

  • Do the same thing every night before going to bed. A routine like brushing your teeth, washing your face, and reading a book will help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Use your bedroom only for sleep. This might be difficult when your only living area is your dorm room. Try to make the bed every morning and turn down the covers only when you are ready to go to sleep. Do not 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.” Using ear plugs or eye masks may be helpful.
  • If you have tried all of the above and still cannot fall asleep within 30 minutes, do not lie there waiting. Get up, possibly read or sit quietly for 20 minutes, then go back to bed. Repeat as many times as you need. Do not watch TV, use the computer, or the phone – the stimulation will only keep you awake.
  • Try not to worry while in bed. Schedule a time to worry into your day or consider keeping a “worry journal.”
  • Do not eat right before going to bed.
  • Drinking fluid in the evening may result in repeated trips to the bathroom in the night. However, the tryptophan in a glass of warm milk will release the brain hormone serotonin that 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.
  • 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. Caffeine is found in coffee, chocolate, energy drinks, tea, and soda.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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, and even if you feel like you did not get enough sleep. Most people cannot make up for lost sleep by marathon sleeping on the weekends.  Pulling an all-nighter may affect your sleep schedule for a week or more.

Additional Resources

Mason Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) – groups/workshops on sleep hygiene

National Health, Lung and Blood Institute

National Sleep Foundation