Good morning everyone!!!
Although, perhaps not as good of a morning for some of you who did not have the best sleep last night. Poor sleep can be the result of many things, such as stress as the end of term approaches, anxiety about a project or test the next day, issues of personal or family physical or mental health, or just not being able to get comfortable.
After three years of Psychology courses during which each professor would share some groundbreaking research findings about how to improve the sleep of university students, and my own battles with insomnia, I have compiled my notes into this post of 7 tips for a better night’s sleep.
1. Take a Technology Break
Now don’t lie: how many of you sleep with your cell phones??? I don’t just mean on the nightstand; I mean resting on your bed or something. A 2013 study found that 39% of students sleep with their cell phones just in case they get a text or call during the night. This percentage peaks at 51% in 11th grade, but even 20% of 4th graders say they do the same thing. Now, for the time being, I am going to ignore the fact that 4th graders even have cell phones because that just baffles me. The point of this is that most people sleep with their phones because they are afraid they will miss something important. But sleep is of top priority between the hours of say 10pm and 7am. Anything someone has to say can wait until the morning. With a phone in bed with you, the brain expects to be woken up, and thus you remain in sleep stages 1 and 2 so you can easily respond to the lighting up of your phone when you receive a text or call.
2. Exercise Before Sleep, But Not Right Before
I have heard people say that if they go to the gym or run on the treadmill before they go to sleep, then they sleep better. This is true, to a degree, but exercise should be between 2-4 hours before you sleep and no sooner. Otherwise the body is left pumping adrenaline and laying in bed wondering why it can’t fall asleep.
3. A Bed is for Sleeping
Back in high school I always used to do my homework and studying propped up in bed with my reading pillow. As comfortable as this may be, a bed is for sleeping, and thus should not be used for any other purpose. The brain forms an association between studying and laying in bed, and if you fall asleep while studying, this association is strengthened until the brain is not able to easily fall asleep.
4. Pick a Spot, and Stick to It
This is a simple matter of classical conditioning. You have probably heard of Pavlov’s dogs. When the dogs saw food, they salivated. But after many times of the food being presented after the sound of a bell, the dogs salivated in response to only the bell, especting that food would follow. Well, the same is true for sleep. When it gets late, you get tired; a natural response. But after many times of sleeping in the same place, the body will get used to sleeping in bed, easier than if it tries to sleep elsewhere.
5. Pick a Time, and Stick to It
This one doesn’t sound so bad, but here’s the hard part: waking up at the same time even on weekends. I love having a nice lie in as much as the next person, but this messes up the body’s circadian rhythm. I like to think of this as the most temperamental alarm clock because there is a host of things that can put it on snooze like light, jet lag or shift work, anxiety, stress, and the list goes on and on. Going to bed at the same time each night helps your internal clock regulate your sleep and wake phases, meaning you sleep better and wake up easier.
6. Good Food, No Caffeine
Never go to bed hungry. Denying the body of a physiological need like food is bad enough, but then expecting the brain to forget about nutrients and go to sleep is just malarkey. And we’ve all heard about the repercussions of caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that most people use after waking up in the morning or to stay alert during the day through their daily cups of coffee, tea, or even some soft drinks. It is important to note that caffeine is not a replacement for the feeling of well restedness that follows a good night’s sleep, but it can make one feel more alert by inhibiting sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain and increasing adrenaline production. Caffeine can have a stimulating effect as soon as 15 minutes after consumption, and will persist for several hours, with only half of it eliminated after 6 hours. While caffeine is safe to consume in moderation (about 250mg daily), it can negatively affect nutrition by replacing nutritious liquids like water and reduce food consumption because it is an appetite suppressant.
7. Let Things Cool Down
If you’re like me and are always cold, then this one will be a little more difficult, but definitely worth it. As much as I love cranking up the heating in my room, snuggling up in blankets, and getting all warm and cozy, this actually makes it harder to sleep. Melatonin is a hormone whose secretion plays an important role in sleep, yet melatonin production decreases with increasing temperature. Thus, sleeping with the heat turned down, and even a window open, can really help getting to sleep.