The Importance of Sleep
Balancing the demands of college life and a good sleep schedule can be hard. Trying to fit in school, work and extracurricular activities can put sleep last on your priorities list. But ignoring sleep has risks. Not getting enough sleep can impair your ability to concentrate, remember information and make good decisions. It can mess with your mood, leading to anxiety, irritability and sadness. It can lead to poor school and work performance and bad grades. Basically, insufficient sleep can impact all areas of your life. Below, you’ll learn the benefits of sleep, how it works and how you can sleep better.
Benefits of Sleep
Sleep helps you think more clearly, complete tough tasks better, have more energy and be alert. Plus, sleep adds to a healthy immune system and helps regulate appetite-controlling hormones. Insufficient sleep, however, makes you more susceptible to sickness and accidents. In fact, drivers 25 years old and under are especially prone to driving crashes, injuries and permanent disabilities because of lack of sleep.
How Sleep Works
Every night, a person goes through four stages of sleep — called non-rapid eye movement sleep or NREM — followed by an additional stage called rapid eye movement or REM. The entire cycle takes 90 minutes and keeps repeating throughout the night. In particular, during REM sleep, you dream, the brain and body conserve energy and muscles shut down. Getting a sufficient number of REM sleep cycles at night is especially critical for daily functioning.
Strategies for Sufficient Sleep
Here’s a list of ways to boost the quality and quantity of your sleep:
• Make sleep a top priority. Remember that sleep is a basic need, not a bonus.
• Get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. This is an estimate because everyone is different. Some people feel alert and perform tasks with no trouble with just six hours of sleep, while others need nine just to function. Signs that show you aren’t getting enough sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation, are if you can’t stay alert during boring tasks, you’re intensely irritable with others or it’s hard for you to concentrate or remember things.
• Avoid anything with caffeine before bedtime, including coffee, tea and soft drinks. Also, avoid nicotine and alcohol, which interferes with sleep.
• Make your bedroom sleep-friendly. Keep it dark, cool and quiet, all things that contribute to a better night’s sleep. If you’re sharing a dorm room with someone who’s noisy, invest in earplugs. Also, to keep light out, buy darker, thicker curtains or an eye mask.
• Be active regularly, but finish up physical activities at least three hours before bedtime.
• Set up a relaxing routine — like reading or taking a bath — that tells your body you’re ready for sleep. Do this about 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime.
• If you’re still unable to sleep after 30 minutes, get out of bed to do something relaxing like reading. This can make you sleepy.
• Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day or at least within a few hours.
• If you really have trouble sleeping, don’t nap during the day.
• Learn to manage stress effectively. Stress can disrupt sleep. To feel and sleep better, use healthy ways to cope like relaxation techniques. But if you’re still having trouble sleeping after a week, make an appointment with a counselor at your school.
• Experiencing racing thoughts before bedtime? Schedule a time each day to write them down and tell yourself that you won’t think of them until your next “worry break.” Another option is to keep some paper by your bed to record any interfering thoughts.