Did you know that:
- Sleep plays a crucial role in learning, memory, and problem solving ability?
- University students need between 8 and 9.25 hours of sleep per night for an optimal level of mental and physical energy?
- Research has demonstrated that poor sleepers are more likely to struggle academically and psychologically?
Everyone knows that getting enough sleep is important for one’s functioning. Yet sleep is often the first thing that gets cut when one’s schedule gets busy! Given how mentally demanding it is to be a university student, it is particularly important for students to ensure that they are getting enough sleep.
Best practices for a good night’s sleep
- Prioritize sleep over studying, socializing, web browsing, and other activities.
- If you need to move to a much earlier bedtime, go to bed a bit earlier every day (e.g.: 15 minutes) for several days until your target bedtime is achieved, rather than going to bed drastically earlier all at once. This will help you avoid problems falling asleep.
- Stick to a regular sleep/ wake schedule so that your body anticipates when it is time for sleep.
- Avoid “screen time” (watching TV or using a computer or other electronic device) close to bedtime. The light from screens interferes with sleep.
- Use a relaxing bedtime ritual, such as light reading, taking a hot bath, or meditating.
- Avoid caffeine, energy drinks, and nicotine in the afternoon and evening.
- Use your bed only for sleeping and relaxation.
- Avoid alcohol and unhealthy food, as both can impede quality of sleep.
- Avoid going to bed too hungry or too full, or having consumed a lot of fluids.
Be careful about napping
- If you are going to nap, set an alarm for 10-30 minutes. This is the optimal duration of a “power nap” to give you a boost in energy and alertness.
- A nap longer than 30 minutes can cause you to feel groggy, and long naps, or naps late in the day, are likely to interfere with falling asleep at night.
- Cut out napping entirely if you are having trouble sleeping at night.
When problems with sleep arise
Reduce stress and address mental preoccupation
Trouble with sleep tends to happen during stressful times or times when we are preoccupied by something. Thus a good starting point is to explore and address what is causing you anxiety or preoccupying your mind. Seek support from family or friends, or consider seeing a counsellor or doctor at Health and Counselling Services for help with sleep issues, anxiety, or stress management.
Stress-relieving and calming strategies can also be helpful, such as:
- Taking a hot bath or shower right before going to bed.
- Listening to relaxing music before bed.
- Meditating or doing deep breathing exercises.
- Getting regular exercise (but avoid exercising within 2 hours of going to bed).
- Moving your nighttime worries out of your head, and into a notebook that you keep by your bed.
Avoid an association between your sleeping routine and trouble with sleep
If you have gotten stuck in a cycle of difficulty with sleep, change things up:
- Try sleeping in another bed or on a couch, if possible.
- If you can’t fall asleep within about 20 minutes, don’t continue tossing and turning—get out of bed and do something like read a book or watch TV until you feel sleepy. Although this might cause you a few sleepless nights, it will help regulate your sleep in the long term.
Change your bedtime mindset
Putting pressure on oneself to fall asleep or having anxiety over whether or not one will be able to fall asleep tends to make falling asleep more difficult. Avoid looking at clocks, as this tends to increase feelings of pressure to fall asleep.
Try to think of, and put yourself into the mindset of, a time when you were extremely exhausted and eager to get to bed. Imagine how great it felt to rest your head on the pillow and close your weary eyes.
Consult a doctor before using sleep aids such as prescription or over-the-counter medication, or natural remedies such as melatonin or chamomile tea.