What is it?
College isn't always conductive to getting sufficient, high quality sleep. Stress, environmental factors, substance use, and much more can affect our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Sleep is essential to maintaining one's overall physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. When our bodies don't get enough sleep it can have negative effects on our metabolism, cognition, and immune systems.
How much is enough?
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends 7-9 hours per night. This recommendation is based off the average individual so some people may need a little less or a little more; however, less than 6 hours is not recommended. It's important to pay attention to how rested your body and mind feel each morning to help determine the right amount of sleep for you.
That being said, it's important to remember that one night with less sleep than you'd like isn't the end of the world, you will be okay. Below is some some helpful information and habits to help improve sleep quality.
What can help?
The Drive to Sleep
There are two components that make up your need for sleep which results in feeling tired. The first is our circadian rhythm that makes us want to sleep at night and be awake during the day. The second has to do with the increase in need to sleep the longer you're awake. The ideal time to try and fall asleep is in the evening after being awake for 14 hours or more. This is because according to our internal clock, it is time to sleep, and the longer we're awake, the more second component tells us to want to sleep.
- Monitor caffeine intake. Different people have different tolerances to caffeine—know your limits! The NSF recommends avoiding caffeine six hours before your projected bedtime (i.e. is you want to go to bed at 10:00 p.m., avoid caffeine after 4:00 p.m.).
- Be mindful of alcohol use. Alcohol tends to make people drowsy; however, alcohol is not conductive to a night of restful sleep. This is because alcohol inhibits a stage of sleep called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is important for things like memory. This is why you may feel tired the morning after having more than one or two drinks—even if you sleep over seven hours.
- Put screens on 'night mode.' Many phones and computers have a 'night mode' option which adjusts the light emitted from your device so that it doesn't put out blue light. Blue light is interpreted by your brain similarly to sunlight and can inhibit your 'sleep on' neurons. If your device doesn't have this option, try and avoid screens about an hour before bedtime. Wind down with a book or podcast instead!
- Keep a regular sleep schedule. This is helpful for regulating and maximizing the second component of your drive to sleep. A Sleep Diary can help! This is a place you record the following: In general, try to maintain a regular bedtime and especially, wake time. If you have difficulty falling asleep, still try and wake up at the same time. This makes it easier to fall asleep the next night and will help normalize your sleep rhythm.
- When you get in bed
- When you fall asleep
- When you wake up
- Any daytime activities that may affect sleep such as caffeine intake, alcohol or other drug use, exercise or inactivity.
- Cultivate an ideal sleep environment. Try and control the stimulus in your sleep environment:
- Light: does street light enter your room? Use blinds or a sleep mask.
- Sound: have noisy roommates or neighbors? Try earplugs! You get used to using them over time.
- Stress: avoid doing homework or other stressful tasks in your bed. This can cause your brain to associate your bed with stress which can make it even more difficult to fall asleep.
- Pro tip: The Duck Nest Wellness Center (EMU 014) has free sleep kits containing eye masks and earplugs. Check it out!
These are some general tips to improve sleep quality. If you're concerned about your sleep habits or worry you have insomnia, talk to someone at the University Health Center. The UHC primary care team can help you address additional sleep concerns.