Getting enough and quality sleep is one of the best things we can do for our bodies and minds, but it’s also one of the first things that we sacrifice when we’re under deadlines, stress, and pressure. We reached out to our friends in TRAPT (Trauma Research Assessment Prevention & Treatment) and Caitlin Paquet, third-year doctoral student in Clinical Psychology, and Trial Coordinator for Nightmare Research shared helpful tips on how we can improve our sleep habits.
We are all doing the best we can. School is in full swing; midterms are likely over and finals may already be creeping into our consciousness. Not to mention there is a pandemic that has hampered our social outlets, and potentially, our self-care; and it’s almost November 3rd. However, sometimes the things we do to help ourselves in the short-term can take on a life of their own when used over time and can stop being helpful, perhaps even becoming problematic. Especially when it comes to the things we do to achieve sleep. One of the best favors we can do for ourselves is to get a good night’s sleep.
Sleep is one of those pesky things in which the harder we try, the harder it becomes. The following is an exhaustive list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to sleep. Keep in mind that everyone is different. While experts agree that this list will set you up for success, treat these suggestions as an experiment. Tackle one a week, see how it impacts your sleep, and proceed accordingly.
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
- Have a regular sleep schedule: Yes, even on the weekends! There is no such thing as “catching up” on sleep! If you did not get a good night’s sleep, continue to get up at a regular time anyway, and just use that lack of sleep as “fuel” for getting super-duper sleep later that night.
- Create a bedtime routine: this routine can help let your body know that it’s time to wind down and disconnect. Replace the phone/tv with soothing music or quiet reading, do some relaxing activities such as meditation or low-impact stretching, maybe make a to-do list for the next day so anxiety about tomorrow doesn’t keep you up at night.
- What you do during the day matters!
- Get some natural light during the day. Isolation can make this difficult, and especially with the winter coming upon us, but finding a way to get a little sunlight every day can be great for your sleep. The earlier in the day the better!
- Be thoughtful about your consumption of caffeine and alcohol. While alcohol can act as a sedative, ultimately, it’s a sugar. When metabolized throughout the night, it will cause your sleep to be restless. Now to caffeine: It stays in your system longer than you think, up to 6 hours. If you think you are consuming quite a bit of caffeine, try having your last bit of it earlier in the day than you are typically accustomed to.
- Move! Regular physical exercise can increase your drive for sleep, as well as improve your mood, which also aids in good sleep. Even if you don’t have time for a 30 to 60-minute workout, find a way to move your body. Make sure to not exercise too close to bedtime, as this can ramp up your body temperature making it more difficult to fall asleep. Similarly, avoid hot showers too close to bedtime (keep it 1-2 hours before bed).
- Avoid long naps late in the day. Napping can make it harder to fall and stay asleep later that night.
- Avoid eating large heavy meals too close to bedtime. Metabolizing that food can disrupt your sleep later that night.
- Don’t study in your bed! For some, this may be difficult if you live in a small apartment/dorm and want to understandably refrain from going to more public places at this time. If the bedroom is the only place you have to study and studying on the bed is your only option, make your bed look different when you are studying than when you are going to bed. If you have a chair/desk in your room, move there to study.
- If you can’t sleep, get out of bed. We call this the “20 minute rule.” If you have been in bed awake for approximately 20 minutes, or long enough to get frustrated, go ahead and get out of bed and do something relaxing to get your mind off of the fact you can’t sleep and to lull you back to sleep before trying again. Similarly, don’t go to bed if you aren’t tired! The more you toss and turn in bed, the more that bed becomes associated with frustration, and becomes less associated with peace and relaxation (See not studying in bed.)
Getting good sleep is important, and you deserve rest! You can use these tips to help ensure a better night’s sleep so that you can be the best version of yourself and make life easier overall! However, if you think you may have a sleep disorder that makes sleep more difficult, talk to a doctor! Good luck with the rest of the semester, you can do it!