Tuesday, February 10, 2015

5 More Minutes Please?

The life of a post secondary student: you spend an entire day in classes, then commute to work volunteer, or an extracurricular activity, and once you finally get home you only have a few hours to get caught up with school work (i.e. make sure you meet the flood of deadlines headed your way, prepare for presentations, and review for that upcoming exam). In an attempt to stay afloat you convince yourself that an all-nighter is the way to go. Right? Wrong.

With all of the pressure to do well, it can be hard to remember just how much those zZz's are important to mental and emotional health, and consequently academic success. Sleep consolidates memory, encourages creativity, increases attentiveness, lowers stress, and helps fight off those pesky colds. In fact, research has has shown that sleep inconsistencies are linked to lower grade point average (Curcio, 2006).

With that said, I'll bet you're ready to get your sleep back on track! Let's start with the key question: how many total hours of sleep do you really need? The National Sleep Foundation has recently released updated recommendations on how many hours of sleep we should be getting each night based on age:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
  • Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours
  • School age children (6-13): 9-11 hours
  • Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours
  • Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours
  • Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours

Most of you probably fit into the "younger adults" or "adults" category meaning you should be aiming for 7-9 hours per night. But 7-9 hours are probably easier said than done. I'm here to give you a few simple ways to improve your sleep habits and help you hit that target!

Be consistent

Wake up and go to bed at the same time each day. This will strengthen your sleep cycle, and eventually your body should naturally signal the appropriate time for bed and the appropriate time to wake up without being prompted by a noisy alarm clock. It is especially important to remember to be consistent with your sleep schedule on weekends, holidays, and days off -- this is where most students are thrown off.

Additionally, a bedtime routine will help cue your body to get ready for bed. Personally, I used to read right before turning in for the night. By the time I was finished the chapter, my body knew to shut down and go right to sleep.

Bed is for sleep

When you use your bed for activities other than to sleep, you condition your body to respond in way that keeps your brain awake. For example, some students use their bed to study on. This reinforce bad sleep habits in the body. The bed eventually becomes associated with an academic environment and the body makes the necessary preparations for academic success: increased brain activity to ensure high alertness and memory. Although this is great for studying purposes, it causes sleep difficulties.

Limit naps

Some people are great about napping; they can keep it to a quick half hour and get up recharged and ready to tackle the task at hand. However, if you're like me a 20 minute nap turns into 2 hours without conscious recollection of hitting that snooze button. If you're someone who cannot get up within the time you've allotted for a nap (try to keep it within 30 minutes), you should probably try to eliminate it altogether. Long naps make it harder to fall asleep on time at night.

Keep it light

Heavy dinners lead to evening drowsiness. This can impact our sleep schedule, having us fall asleep earlier and wake up in the middle of the night. Keep dinners and evening snacks light to avoid this effect. If you have to eat a heavier meal, then keep yourself awake by staying active until bedtime. This can be something as simple as doing laundry.

Sleep when you're tired

A lot of people make the mistake of staying in bed even while wide awake. The general rule is that if you are unable to fall asleep within 15 minutes, get out of bed! Do something else and then come back when you're tired. Staying in bed will only cause stress and anxiety about not falling asleep, which will ironically keep you awake.


Humans need cool, dark and relatively noise-free environments for proper sleep. Bedrooms that are too hot or cold will impede on sleep, as will light which signals the body to stay awake, and noise which doesn't allow the mind to shut down. Try earplugs and a sleep mask to help your sleep conditions if light or noise is an issue.

No electronics!

So many people, young adults especially, love to use their electronics to fill in the time between getting into bed and falling asleep. This can be big trouble. The back-light of most electronic devices (phone, laptop, TV, tablet) signals the body to stop making melatonin, a natural sleep inducing hormone, as it not quite dark out yet. These devices also keep the brain active, which isn't optimal for sleep.

That's all I have for today folks, let us know how these tips fare out in the comments below!

Sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite :)
Rajani Sellathurai  

Resources used: 

Curcio, Giuseppe, Michele Ferrara, and Luigi De Gennaro. "Sleep loss, learning capacity and academic performance." Sleep medicine reviews 10.5 (2006): 323-337.

Smith, Melinda, Lawrence Robinson, and Robert Segal. "How to Sleep Better: Tips for Getting a Good Night's Sleep." Helpguide.org. Dec 2014. Web. 7 Feb 2015.

Sparacino, Alyssa. "11 Surprising Health Benefits of Sleep." Health.com. Health Media Ventures, Inc. n.d. Web. 4 Feb 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20459221,00.html

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