Good sleep habits help individuals perform their best. Yet with so many students juggling so much all of the time (and especially right now), getting quality sleep can be difficult. There’s work to be done, family to support, and school assignments to complete. Depending on the type of work you do, you might have to work shifts that make getting a normal night’s sleep challenging and can even throw off the body’s natural rhythms. So what can you do if you’re juggling a busy schedule and find yourself struggling to sleep? Here are a few tips that could help you to sleep better so that you’ll be healthy and ready for whatever the day ahead brings.
1. Establish and maintain a sleep schedule.
As often as possible, go to bed and wake up at the same time – even on the weekends. If you follow a consistent schedule, your body will get into a routine, making falling asleep and waking up much easier. When you stay up late or sleep in on the weekends, those changes throw off your routine and make it harder to fall asleep and rise when you need to. Likewise, long naps or naps late in the day can disrupt your routine and leave you wide awake at night when you’d planned to be sleeping. If you need to nap, shoot for a 15- to 20-minute nap in the early afternoon.
2. Improve your sleeping environment.
Use your bedroom for sleeping only, keeping it clean of clutter and anything that might induce stress. Light tells your brain to wake up, so minimize light and noise at bedtime. (On the flip side, taking in bright light in the morning by sitting next to a sunny window for breakfast or enjoying your coffee outside can help you to wake up faster!) In your bedroom, cover illuminated clocks before sleeping and consider investing in room darkening curtains or at least an eye mask. Another trick is to set your phone to alarm-only mode and leave it upside down to damper any light it emits. If you worry about waking up on time, set multiple alarms to ease your concerns. If you live on a noisy street, you can use earplugs if they don’t block out your alarm or try a white noise machine or sleep sounds smartphone app. Finally, lower your thermostat before bedtime; the best temperature for sleeping is around 65 degrees.
3. Ask others to respect your schedule.
Some people, especially those who work in security or healthcare, may work hours that fall outside the norm. If that’s you, get your friends and family on board with the importance of your sleep. Let them know why you sleep when you do and request that they only disturb you in an emergency. If you sleep different hours from the other people in your household, ask them to avoid loud activities while you are sleeping. You can even place a Do Not Disturb sign on your front door while you sleep to avoid being awakened by the doorbell.
4. Follow a healthy diet and exercise routine during waking hours.
Regular exercise can lower your stress levels and improve your sleep, so aim for at least 20 minutes of daily aerobic exercise. Ideally, you should do your exercise before it gets too late in the day, as doing a strenuous workout within a few hours of your bedtime could lead to trouble falling asleep. (Light stretching or a relaxing yoga routine, on the other hand, is fine in the evening.) When it comes to eating, don’t indulge in a huge meal before bedtime but also avoid an empty stomach. Either one could wake you up in the middle of your sleep cycle. Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol can also all disrupt your sleep, so avoid these items in the hours before you sleep.
5. Introduce a nightly wind-down ritual.
Begin to relax approximately an hour before going to sleep. During that hour, avoid watching tv or scrolling on your phone as the bright light can stimulate your brain. If you want to read, choose something relaxing that you’ll be able to set aside at bedtime. A pre-bedtime routine will also be beneficial. Ease any tension with a warm bath or shower, and treat yourself to soothing lavender scents or calming essential oils. Then, clean your face, brush your teeth and play relaxing music or white noise to signal to your brain that it’s time for sleep. If you find yourself getting anxious at night, keep a notepad nearby where you can jot down thoughts and reminders and consider learning a relaxation technique to help you release tension and drift off to sleep faster.
For advice on balancing a professional and academic workload while maintaining a healthy lifestyle, South University students are encouraged to reach out to their academic advisors for support and resources.