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Getting Enough Sleep

Cat sleeping in bed

The benefits of sufficient sleep are numerous, especially for students, as sleep is essential for increased memory consolidation, learning, decision making, and critical thinking. Receiving an average of 8 hours of quality sleep per night is an important part of overall health and academic success. A large proportion of college students are sleep deprived, regularly getting less rest than they need each night. When students routinely have problems with sleep, learning & memory suffer. Motor skills can be impaired. Resistance to illness drops, particularly important in a residential college environment.

While you sleep, your body, including your mind, experiences many benefits. Just like your phone, you need a recharge at the end of the day so that you can perform your best the next.

What happens when you sleep?

  • Memories are consolidated and stored (necessary for learning)
  • Ability to concentrate and pay attention is restored
  • Muscles repair and recover
  • Metabolism is regulated
  • Maintain better mental health and physical health

What happens when you don’t sleep?

  • Judgment and concentration are impaired.
  • Release of more appetite stimulating hormones that can consequently result in weight gain
  • Immune system is suppressed and increases risk of illness
  • Emotions are heightened, causing irritability, anger, and/or anxiety
  • Reaction time is slowed and more accidents occur

Adapted from University Health Services at University of Texas at Austin.

Without enough sleep, you may:

  • Forget what you learned in your lectures
  • Have trouble making good decisions
  • Be grumpy and have mood swings
  • Have trouble playing games and sports
  • Be less patient with friends and co-workers
  • Have trouble listening to peers, boyfriends and teachers

When You Get Enough Sleep You Can:

  • Pay better attention in school
  • Be creative and think of new ideas
  • Fight sickness and stay healthy
  • Be in a good mood
  • Get along with friends and family
  • Solve problems more efficiently

Good sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene is good sleep practices aimed at reducing our sleep debt and fulfilling our nightly sleep need.

Poor sleep hygiene

Poor sleep habits or sleep hygiene are among the most common problems encountered in our society. We stay up too late and get up too early. We interrupt our sleep with drugs, chemicals and work, and we over stimulate ourselves with late-night activities such as television.

  • 50% of sleep problems are caused by emotional stress.  
  • The other 50% is caused by factors such as:
    • irregular bedtimes
    • frequent naps
    • late night activities
    • weekend sleeping-in
    • physical illness
    • diet & exercise habits

Your Personal Habits

  • Fix a bedtime and an awakening time – this will help the body get use to falling asleep at a certain time, but only if this is relatively fixed.
  • Avoid alcohol 4-6 hours before sleep – many people believe that alcohol helps them sleep. While alcohol has an immediate sleep-inducing effect, a few hours later as the alcohol levels in your blood start to fall, there is a stimulant or wake-up effect.
  • Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime – This includes caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and many sodas, as well as chocolate.
  • Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods 4-6 hours before bedtime – These can affect your ability to stay asleep.
  • Exercise regularly, but not right before bed – regular exercise, particularly in the afternoon, can help deepen sleep. Strenuous exercise within the 2 hours before bedtime, however can decrease your ability to fall asleep.

Improving your Sleeping Environment

  • Use comfortable bedding - Uncomfortable bedding can prevent good sleep. Evaluate whether or not this is a source of your problem, and make appropriate changes.
  • Find a comfortable temperature setting for sleeping and keep the room well ventilated. If your bedroom is too cold or too hot, it can keep you awake. A cool – not cold – bedroom is often the most conducive to sleep.
  • Block out all distracting noise – and eliminate as much light possible.
  • Reserve the bed for sleep and sex – Don’t use the bed as an office, workroom or recreation room. Let your body “know” that the bed is associated with sleeping.

Getting Ready for Bed

  • Try a light snack before bed. Warm milk and foods high in amino acid, such as bananas, may help you sleep.
  • Practice relaxation techniques before bed – relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing and others may help relieve anxiety and reduce muscle tension.
  • Don’t take your worries to bed. Leave your worries about job, school, daily life, etc. behind when you go to bed. Some people find it useful to assign a “worry period” during the evening or late afternoon to deal with these issues.
  • Establish a pre-sleep ritual. Pre-sleep rituals, such as a warm bath or a few minutes of reading, can help you sleep.
  • Get into your favourite sleeping position. If you don’t fall asleep within 15-30 minutes, get up and go into another room, and read until sleepy.

Getting Up in the Middle of the Night

Most people wake up 1 or 2 times in the night. If you find that once you have been up that you cannot go back to sleep within 15 – 30 minutes, do not remain in bed trying. Get out of bed, leave the room, read or eat a snack or do some quiet activity – then return to bed. Do not perform challenging or engaging activity such as office work, or housework – and don’t watch TV.

A nap is a short period of sleep, typically taken during the day often as a response to drowsiness or fatigue.  While napping is not a replacement for sleep, it can help make up for lost sleep and improve your cognitive function, mood, and memory.

How long should I nap?

10-20 minutes:

Also known as a “power nap”, a 10-20 minute nap is ideal for a boost in alertness and energy, experts say. This length usually limits you to the lighter stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which will help you to easily wake up while feeling refreshed.

30 minutes:

Some studies show sleeping this long may cause sleep inertia, a hangover-like groggy feeling that lasts for up to 30 minutes after waking up, before the nap’s restorative benefits become apparent.

60 minutes:

This nap is best for improvement in remembering facts, faces, and names. It includes slow-wave sleep, the deepest type. The downside: some grogginess upon waking up.

90 minutes:

This is a full cycle of sleep, meaning the lighter and deeper stages, including REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep, typically likened to the dreaming stage. This leads to improved emotional and procedural memory (i.e. riding a bike, playing the piano) and creativity. A nap of this length typically avoids sleep inertia, making it easier to wake up.

Benefits of Napping

  • You will have increased alertness and focus.
  • You will have higher energy levels throughout the day.
  • Increased motor performance (such as reaction time) will be increased and reduced mistakes and accidents.
  • You will experience a decrease in moodiness.

Tips for effective napping:

Keep it short.

20 minutes is the sweet spot for nap length if you want to wake up feeling alert, cheerful, and productive. A 90-minute nap gives you enough time for a complete, creativity-building sleep cycle.

Maximize Efficiency.

To make your naptime as productive as possible, it’s important to get straight to business—that is, fall asleep fast. To help you do that, rest in a cool, dark room that’s free from distractions. You can also power down your phone, and try using props like a noise conditioner or sleep mask if you can’t escape ambient noise and light.

Time it Right.

An hour or two after lunch is a natural time to nap since your blood sugar and energy levels drop. Instead of a cup of coffee when the afternoon lull hits, consider a nap to perk up your afternoon without interrupting your nighttime sleep.

Get Back in Action.

After your 20 minutes is up, get right back to whatever you were doing before the nap. Get some sunlight on your face, take a brisk walk, jump in place, or splash some water on your face to let your body know that nap time is over.