Sleep through the stress to find success

By Annamarie Wadiak

(Jennifer C./ Flickr)
(Jennifer C./ Flickr)

It is that time of the year again. Balancing classes, work and friends leaves little opportunity for sleep, but do not sell a healthy sleep schedule short. According to a report by the National Sleep Foundation, young adults (ages 18 to 25) should be getting around seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Without a sufficient amount of sleep, people are at an increased risk of health problems, experience less productivity and a decrease in cognitive function.

The most obvious way to improve your sleep is to get more of it. However, since that is often not an easy option for college students, focus on quality. There are several ways to do this. First, commit to a sleep schedule. Choose times based on your class, club and work schedules that you can stick to for waking up and getting to bed. By practicing a set sleep schedule, your body clock will start to adapt, thus helping you to better fall sleep and wake up at your chosen times.

Secondly, try to limit your caffeine intake, specifically before bed. Caffeine is a crutch for many students when the work load gets tough and schedules get busy. If you do not want to cut it completely though, just try cutting back. Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it will keep your system going even when it is night time and you are trying to go to sleep.

According to the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, moderate caffeine intake three to six hours before bedtime causes significant sleep disturbance when compared to no caffeine intake. To avoid this disturbance, try not to drink soda, coffee or caffeinated tea within six hours of your bed time. Instead, drink water or herbal teas such as chamomile or mint. You should avoid drinking alcohol before bed as well, as this can also cause an uncomfortable, insufficient sleep.

Thirdly, you should consider cutting down or stopping screen time use before bed. A study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that people who use screens before bed take 10 minutes longer on average to fall asleep compared to people who read a print book. They also experience suppressed melatonin levels, reduced tiredness at bed time and decreased alertness upon wake up.

At the end of a long day, it is tempting to jump into bed and catch up on text messages, Facebook posts and television episodes, but try not to use your phone, tablet, computer or TV right before you are planning on going to sleep. Try to use your bed only for sleep and not for anything that stresses you out or makes you active. You want to associate your bed with relaxation and rest only.

Fourthly, exercise is a great way to keep your body on track. In addition to reducing stress and improving fitness, an Oregon State University study found that exercise helps people sleep better and feel more alert when awake. You might have to play around with the timing of your exercise, though. Some people find that exercising close to bed time helps them to expend any leftover energy before settling down, while others find that it stimulates them and prevents them from falling asleep right away. Either way, exercise is a substantial component in dealing with stress management, health and sleep.

Lastly, employ your own routine to de-stress and deal with problems that are keeping you from full, relaxing sleep. Stress stimulates us and makes our bodies go into fight-or-flight responses, which will keep us from being able to wind down and go to bed.

Many people choose to write in a journal at night. If thoughts are making you restless or waking you up, jot down notes to remind yourself what you will have to deal with in the morning, but then go back to sleep so you can get the rest you need to face your day. You might also try to meditate or do some light yoga, which will focus you on your breathing and relaxation.

By taking a few minutes each night before bed to meditate, do some light stretching, write in a journal or read a book, you will be able to get to sleep quicker and have a more efficient, refreshing rest. Sleep is a very important component to fighting stress, so whatever is keeping you from sleeping, realize that even a few hours of good quality sleep will prepare you for your day and refocus your mind and energy.

Annamarie Wadiak can be reached at [email protected]