6 Things That Could Help You Sleep Better

  • Stop using all technology 30 minutes before bed – no cell phone, no laptop, no TV, no gaming system.  The light from these devices block a substance in the brain called melatonin which can help you fall asleep. A 30 minute wind down with relaxation and reading (a paper book) can make it easier to fall asleep.
  • No caffeine after 3 PM.
  • Try to go to sleep at the same time and wake up at the same time every day, to avoid a feeling of “jet lag.” Sleep only an hour longer during the weekend than your latest weekday wake-up time.
  • Sleep in a darkened room. Even small amounts of light, like light from a nightlight or even natural light filtered through sheer curtains, can disrupt sleep.
  • Temperature matters. Try and keep the room cool enough so that a blanket is necessary, either by lowering the setting on the thermostat or by using a fan.
  • Artificial lighting with a blue or white tint, like that from fluorescent lights or the indicator lights on many electronic devices, can be slightly stimulating and disruptive to sleep. Shut off or mask blue or white lights starting 30 minutes before trying to sleep. (Note that lights with a yellow or orange glow are more soothing.)

Facts About Sleep: (from the National Institutes of Health)

  • Students are one of the most sleep-deprived populations.
  • Research at Brown University has found that approximately 11% of students report good sleep, while 73% report sleep problems.
  • Sleep deprivation in students has been linked to lower GPAs because sleep affects concentration, memory and the ability to learn. 

Frequent Questions and Concerns about Sleep

Why is good sleep so important for students?
Regular and restful sleep is essential for good health.  Everyday activities such as going to class, working out, or working on a computer can strain your mind and body, but sleep helps you feel less stressed and even helps you to maintain a healthy diet. Conversely, sleep deprivation can affect important aspects of your mind and body such as your mood, energy, ability to learn, memory, good judgment, reaction time and efficiency.

How does sleep help?
Sleep is a process with several distinct phases. At each phase, different physiological processes take place: 

  • Deep and restful sleep helps to restore energy you expend during the day.
  • Your brain is actively working while you sleep to create new pathways for areas such as learning, memories and new insights.
  • Good sleep helps your body to fight off common infections by releasing key hormones while you sleep.

How can sleep deprivation affect me if I have a chronic mental health disorder?
Lack of quality sleep increases hormone levels which can affect mood and stress levels. It can lead to problems with concentration, memory, judgment, problem solving and reaction time, and worsen symptoms related to your mental health disorder. Your coping skills and your academic performance can become compromised if you are not feeling fully rested.  It may be harder to pay attention in class, harder to study, and definitely more difficult to perform well on a test.

How do I know how much sleep I need?
Most adults need an average of eight hours of restful sleep per night. But this varies by individual. The best way to determine the right amount of sleep for you is to spend one week waking up naturally without an alarm clock.  At the end of the week, average out the amount of sleep you received each night. Use this sleep diary to help you keep track of your sleep during this time.

Can I sleep too much?
Yes.  Oversleeping can also lead to some of the same problems that result from sleep deprivation.  Sleeping too much has also been shown to increase the risk of heart problems, obesity and cognitive impairment.

How does sleep affect my diet? 
Research has shown that lack of sleep leads to insulin sensitivity which can lead to increased cravings for high-calorie foods.  This is especially important information for students who are taking psychiatric medications that may increase appetite or those who have a medical condition such as diabetes. Click here to read more about nutrition.

Tips for a good night’s sleep

As a student, there are many factors that may make maintaining a regular sleep schedule difficult.  Below are some suggestions for ways you can modify your daily routine to promote better sleep:

Incorporate a small amount of time each day to be outside in daylight. Time spent outside during the day helps to preserve your body’s sleep and wake cycles.  There are many options for this:

  • Study outside.
  • Play a regular outdoor sport.
  • Relax in the sun with your friends.
  • Organize a weekly walk outside with your friends to get benefits of both exercise and sunlight.

Try to get some physical activity on most days.  Exercise can promote more regular sleep and wake patterns as well as reduce stress.  It’s important to avoid exercise and other vigorous activities three-to-four hours before going to bed to avoid awakening the body even more and making it more difficult to fall asleep.

A regular meal schedule can also help you get a good night’s sleep. Eat smaller meals and be especially careful to avoid heavy meals near bedtime. 

Limit Caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant, which disrupt sleep. It is best to stay away from caffeine after lunchtime.  If you are up late studying or just need a little more energy, try a small energy-boosting snack instead of a caffeinated beverage. 

Practice time management with your school work. Worrying in bed about the next day or week can keep you from falling asleep. Try to stay on top of your school work to decrease your overall stress and worry, and to reduce last minute cramming. In addition, mentally plan for the next day before getting into bed. Journaling before bed is a technique that some students find to be helpful in addressing concerns before bed.

Avoid all-nighters. While all-nighters and late-night study sessions may appear to give you more time to cram, they are also likely to drain your brainpower. Sleep deprivation hinders your ability to perform complex cognitive tasks like those required on exams. And it is unlikely that you will retain much information that you study while sleep-deprived. It is better to sleep the night before an exam, even if it means studying for fewer hours. Remember: research has shown that a good night of sleep is more beneficial for learning than staying up late cramming.

Don’t rely on weekend catch up. You may be tempted to rely on the weekend to “catch up” on sleep that you missed during the week. Generally, this only worsens your sleep pattern. The best solution is to get a regular amount of sleep as many nights as possible, and when necessary sleep only an hour longer during the weekend than your latest weekday wake-up time.

Go to bed and wake up as close as possible to the same time every day. Having a set bedtime and rising time will help your body get used to a sleeping schedule. Sleep only an hour longer during the weekend than your latest weekday wake-up time, understanding that there may be exceptions depending on your schedule. Talk with your family about how you can establish a regular sleep routine in your home.

Use the bed only for sleeping. Avoid doing other activities such as studying or using your computer or phone. This ensures that your body will not associate the bed with these activating tasks, which can make it harder to fall asleep.

Go to bed only when you are sleepy. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a relaxing activity outside of the bedroom until you feel sleepy again.Try deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation if you are having trouble falling asleep due to stress or anxiety.

The more you know about your own sleep patterns and your own sleep needs, the more you can use sleep as a tool to increase your productivity and help you stay healthy. It may be helpful to track your sleep over the course of a week or two using a sleep diary. You may not realize how some of your habits may be making it more difficult for you to fall asleep or stay asleep. 

If you are having persistent sleep problems regardless of what measures you take to improve your sleep, or if you are concerned that you may have a sleep disorder, talk to your family doctor.