As students, we’re always bouncing from one activity to the next. Our schedules can get so packed that we may find that 24 hours in a day is not enough to complete all the tasks we wish to finish. As a result, life becomes a game of ranking our priorities and more often than not, our sleep falls to the bottom of that list.
How many times has this happened to you? It’s Sunday evening when you say, “tonight will be the night I get my sleep schedule in check. I will be in bed by 10:00 and sound asleep by 10:30, so I can be nice and energized for school on Monday”. You go about your evening and the clock hits 9:30. You check your phone and see a message from your friend asking what you got for question 5 on the problem set for HSCI 130. After racking your brain to figure out what they’re referring to, it hits you. Racing to Canvas, you discover that you have an assignment due at 11:59 pm. You rush to finish your homework and submit it in the nick of time – at 11:58 of course. You decide to reward yourself by watching your favourite Netflix series. Before you know it, it’s 2:00 am and you have 5 hours before it’s time to get ready for school. “I’ll sleep on time tomorrow,” you convince yourself as you close your eyes and fall asleep.
This was my case for a long time. Sleep had always taken the back burner for me, as I felt the constant urge to complete all of my tasks. As a result, I felt exhausted all the time, had a hard time focusing in class, and was easily irritable. It wasn’t until I actually started to apply what I was learning in my health sciences courses about sleep that I began to see a change in my academic achievements and overall health.
Studies show that sleep is essential for maintaining mental and physical health, as well as increasing your quality of life. When we sleep, our brain goes through various processes such as memory consolidation and connection formation that allows you to function well throughout the day. For this reason, lack of sleep results in a decreased ability to focus, memory loss, and reduced attentiveness – all of which are crucial to achieving your maximum academic potential.
Getting proper sleep is much easier said than done, but here are some tips that I have found helpful in ensuring I get the rest I need.
1. Start a Bedtime Routine
Having a consistent routine acts as a signal to your brain that it’s time to start winding down. This should be about 30 minutes to an hour before you’d like to be in bed. During this time, you should avoid looking at any screens as the light from your laptop or phone suppresses the release of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. Instead, do something that you enjoy and calms you down such as reading a book, writing in your journal, or meditating.
2. Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule
It takes a lot of self-control to resist sleeping in on a Saturday morning, but it is necessary to ensure a healthy sleep schedule. Waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day, even on weekends, will help you sleep more soundly at night.
3. Avoid Caffeine in the PM
This has always been a tricky one for me. As an avid coffee addict, it takes a lot of willpower for me to pour myself a second cup when my energy levels start to crash around 2:00 pm. However, once I started switching out my afternoon caffeine fix for water or decaffeinated tea, I found that I was able to get much more restful sleep at night, which mitigated my coffee craving for the next afternoon.
4. Exercise Earlier in the Day
Exercising in the morning is known to lead to deeper sleep as opposed to midday or evening workouts. Moreover, sleeping close to bedtime can cause disrupted sleep due to elevated body temperature. Try to exercise no later than 2 to 3 hours before bed gets the best possible shut-eye.
5. Avoid Heavy Meals in the Evening
Eating a heavier meal before bed causes your metabolism to work harder, making it difficult to fall asleep. Aim to finish dinner at least 2 to 3 hours before going to bed. If you get hungry, eat a light snack such as a banana or almonds.
Remember, change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes several weeks to form a habit. Remind yourself that these changes are for your benefit in the long run. Trust me, your body will thank you.