For the final installment of our stress management series, we’ll focus on the importance of getting enough quality sleep. Consistent sleep is critical for a healthy life. Although we all need varying amounts of sleep, if we do not get enough sleep, everything from our immune system to our ability to learn and remember information will be negatively affected. Sleep is as important as nutrition and exercise when preparing for peak performance and effectively managing stress.
Here are some tips for getting good sleep:
- Maintain a regular wake and sleep schedule, even on weekends.
Try to keep wake and sleep times regular, not varying them by more than two hours. This may be difficult on weekends with the temptation to sleep in, but try to stick with it. Large variations in sleep schedules can have the same effects as getting less than normal amounts of sleep.
- Come up with a regular, relaxing bedtime routine. Examples include taking a hot bath, reading a book or listening to relaxing music.
Your bedtime relaxing routine will help you to separate your sleep time from your daily activities that may cause you excitement, stress and anxiety. Be sure to do these relaxing things away from bright light, and don’t do stimulating activities like homework right before bed. This can be difficult for college students to do, but try to have some down-time between studying and going to bed.
- Create a sleep-friendly environment.
A sleep-friendly environment is one that is dark, cool, quiet, comfortable and interruption-free. This can be difficult for students living in residence halls, but here are a few suggestions that may help: try hanging a black sheet around your bed, hang up dark curtains, use eye-masks and/or ear plugs, and try “white noise” like fans or humidifiers to cover other noises.
- Lie down to go to sleep only when sleepy.
If you try to go to bed when you’re not sleepy, you may associate your bed with feeling frustrated about not being able to fall asleep. If you can’t fall asleep after about 15 minutes, get up and go into another room. If you are in a residence hall, get out of bed and do something non-sleep related, but that is relaxing. Return to bed only after you feel sleepy.
- Only use your bed for sleep.
This may be difficult to do with only limited furniture, but try not to use your bed for doing homework or other activities that can cause you anxiety. This will strengthen the association between your bed and sleep.
- Don’t eat within two or three hours of your planned bedtime.
Eating or drinking too much before bed can make you feel uncomfortable as you are settling down into bed. Try to avoid heavy meals right before bed and be cautious of spicy foods, as they can cause heartburn, which may prevent you from sleeping.
- Exercise regularly, but be sure to complete your workout at least a few hours before bedtime.
In general, regular exercise makes it easier to fall asleep and can improve sleep quality. Be sure not to exercise just before bedtime, as this can actually make it harder to sleep. Try to finish your workout at least three hours before you go to bed.
- Avoid caffeine before bedtime.
Caffeine is a stimulant. This means it causes your body to be more alert. Caffeine (found in coffee, tea, soda and chocolate) can stay in the body for an average of three to five hours. Even if you don’t think caffeine affects you, it is likely to hinder your sleep quality. Avoiding caffeine within six to eight hours before bed can improve sleep quality.
As we hope you’ve learned over the past several weeks, there are many steps you can take to improve your ability to manage stress. Even if you’re not feeling particularly stressed at the moment, start using these strategies now to keep your stress levels in check going forward. Remember, if you are really struggling with stress or anxiety, it’s important to reach out for help. Contact your school’s counseling center to get the support you need! Until next week, stay well, collegians!