Sleep disruptions and difficulties in college are fairly common, particularly given the lifestyles and stressors that many students experience. However, lack of sleep can cause irritability, undermine efficiency, and impede your academic and work performance. Hence, it is important to practice good sleep hygiene habits in order to help you feel and perform your best.
Essentials of Good Sleep Habits
- Have a relatively fixed bedtime and awakening time. By going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, the body ‘gets used’ to this pattern.
- Exercise regularly, preferably in the morning or early afternoon. Stretching and aerobic exercise can promote restful sleep. Strenuous exercise within 2 hours before bedtime, however, can interfere with falling asleep.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and heavy, spicy, or sugary foods 4-6 hours before bedtime, as they can affect your ability to fall or stay asleep.
- Avoid naps during the day. While a 30-45 afternoon minute nap is okay, do not sleep more than that or it may interfere with your ability to sleep later that night.
- Consider your bedroom environment – keep the temperature comfortable, the room dim and quiet, the bedding comfortable. Keep your hands and feet warm by using warm socks or mittens if needed.
- Don’t watch television in bed. Use your bed only for sleeping and sex.
- Use a relaxation exercise before going to bed, such as deep breathing, imagery, or muscle relaxation.
- Try a light snack before bed. Warm milk and bananas, which are high in the amino acid tryptophan, may help you to sleep.
- Don’t bring your worries to bed with you. If needed, keep a note pad by your bed to write down your thoughts and return to them the next day. Or, assign a ‘worry time’ during the late afternoon or early evening to deal with those issues.
Waking in the Middle of the Night
Most people do wake up one or two times a night for a variety of reasons. If you wake up and cannot get back to sleep within 15-20 minutes, do not remain in bed trying to fall asleep. Get up, leave the bedroom, and have a light snack or engage in a quiet activity. Do not perform an engaging or difficult task such as office work, housework, or television viewing. Generally you can get back to sleep about 20 minutes later.
Other Factors that Influence Sleep
- Physical factors such as arthritis, acid reflux with hearburn, menstruation, headaches, and hot flashes may upset sleep. Certain medications can cause sleeplessness as a side effect. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have concerns.
- Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or narcolepsy can result in significant disruption in academic performance, sex drive, concentration, mood and energy. Consult a physician if you suspect that you may have a sleep disorder.
- Psychological concerns such as depression, anxiety, and stress are often associated with sleep difficulty. A physician or therapist should be consulted about these issues to help determine the problem and an appropriate course of treatment.
- Physicians may suggest sleep medications for short-term relief of a sleeping problem. The decision to take a sleeping aid is one to be made in cooperation with a physician, and dosage recommendations should be followed carefully.