Hi. My name is Maddie Harrienger and I’m currently a Junior studying Economics and Journalism here at UW. After six semesters on campus, you’d think that I’d have this whole student thing down by now. But, I’m just like you, still figuring out what works best for me as I go.
Something I still haven’t quite mastered is the art of getting a restful night of sleep. I’ve suffered with insomnia since before I can remember, and still do. But, since working for Rec Well, I have set out to live a healthier life that prioritizes my wellbeing – beginning with my sleep schedule.
Getting a good night’s sleep is something that many of us place on the backburner and don’t prioritize nearly as often as we should. In college, pulling an all-nighter to study before big exams and staying up late is heavily normalized. In reality, however, getting a good night’s sleep is something that is essential in maintaining our wellbeing and health. Sleeping gives your mind and body a moment to recharge, heal and prepare for the chaos and hard work of tomorrow. Without enough sleep, your brain can’t function properly. You could experience: attention lapses, reduced cognition, delayed reactions, and mood shifts. Some people, like myself, can even build up a tolerance to the mental effects of chronic sleep deprivation. You may not even be aware of just exactly how your lack of sleep can affect you.
As Thomas Dekker once said, “sleep is the golden chain that binds health and our bodies together.”
Keeping Dekker’s wise words in mind, it’s important to place sleep at the forefront of our efforts to live and be well. Many of the things that we can do to improve our sleep actually begin during the day, hours before the sun goes down.
Here are five changes that we can both implement in our daily life that may help us sleep better at night:
- Avoid taking long naps in the evening.
As tempting as a nap may be after a long, sleepless night, it may not re-energize you in the way that you had hoped. Sleeping during the day, outside of your normal sleeping routine, can cause more nighttime sleep problems. It can leave you more groggy and fatigued than you were before you napped. That being said, taking a nap does have some benefits. If you are exhausted or can’t keep your eyes open, try a power nap before dinnertime that doesn’t last any longer than 20 minutes.
- Reserve your bed for sleep only.
With increased time spent at home and on your computer because of online classes, it may be enticing to do your work on your bed. But, this can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule. You’ve probably heard it a million times already, but as humans, we’re creatures of habit. We form strong mental connections between our settings and how we feel. By only getting into bed when you plan on sleeping, your mind and body will only associate your bed with being tired. This will help you wind down at night and get ready to sleep. Opt to work in productive spaces where you won’t be disturbed and you can focus efficiently.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day.
You’ve been told your whole life that exercise is important for living well, but it’s just as important for sleeping well too. Getting in 30 minutes of exercise during the day can significantly improve your quality of sleep and your sleep cycle. This could look as simple as going for a walk with your roommates or involve a trip to the Nick for a good workout. Those who exercised regularly reported that they were able to fall asleep faster, slept longer, and got a better night’s sleep. Dedicating 30 minutes of your day to exercising will not only give your day structure, but will also help you to de-stress and unwind.
- When you can’t sleep, get out of bed.
Similarly to the mental associations your brain can form between your bed and sleep, you can also form associations between your bed and the frustrations and anxiety of not being able to sleep. This means that if you’ve been lying in bed for 20+ minutes without falling asleep, get up and do something relaxing that will take your mind off of the obligation of sleeping. Reading a book in low light, listening to your favorite music, or folding laundry are all good ways to relax before you get back into bed. While you’re up, try to avoid looking at the time and shift all your focus onto the activity at hand before you try to fall asleep.
- Wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day.
This one may be a little easier said than done, but it’s worth the struggle. We all have an internal clock inside of us that tells us when to go to sleep and when to wake up. For people who experience irregular sleep patterns, it’s important to retrain your body to know what times are acceptable for sleep. Getting into the habit of getting to bed earlier will give you the quality sleep that you need to be productive the next day. It might be hard to make a routine for yourself at first, but be patient and eventually your circadian rhythm will regulate and you won’t think twice about when you go to sleep or wake up. You can help yourself to remember to stick to your schedule by setting sleep reminders on your phone for each night.
Adjusting your sleep schedule is unique to you. Remember that we’re all different people with different lifestyles and conditions, keep trying different things until you find what works for you.
Do yourself a favor and don’t wait to make changes that will set yourself up to get a good night’s sleep. Your body, your mind, and your friends will thank you for it later.