When aiming to get your 7 to 9 hours each night, don't forget that quality is just as important as quantity. Here are some tips for getting optimal sleep:
- Keep it regular. As much as possible, keep a regular schedule for bedtime and waking up.
- Wake up in time for breakfast.
- Regular exercise will energize you during the day and help you sleep better at night, but avoid working out in the 3 hours before bedtime.
- Eat healthy food and stay hydrated. Also, eating a large meal late in the day can interfere with sleep because your body will remain active, working to digest the food.
- Avoid or minimize use of stimulants and depressants. Caffeine, energy drinks, nicotine, alcohol, and sugar can all interfere with the body's ability to fall and stay asleep.
- Establish a bedtime routine. Doing the same thing every night before bed lets the body know that it is time to slow down and relax. Drink a cup of herbal tea, wash your face, brush your teeth, etc. Do a "brain dump" by jotting down a list of worries or things that may keep you awake.
- Set social boundaries. You don't need to stay up playing video games or socializing if you don't want to.
- Make your sleep environment dark, cool, comfortable, and quiet, which will help cue your body to sleep. Try an eye mask, ear plugs, or a small fan to optimize your sleeping environment.
- Your bed is for sleep and sex only. Avoid studying, watching TV, and using other technology in bed.
- If you cannot fall asleep after 30 minutes, don't stay in bed tossing and turning. Get up and do a relaxing activity, such as listening to soothing music or a few yoga stretches. The Health Promotion Lending Library has many yoga and meditation DVDs you can check out. The Counseling and Mental Health Center also has excellent resources such as Stress Recess to help with relaxation. Return to bed when you are sleepy.
Common Misconceptions about Sleep
- Caffeine and other stimulants help me push through that last hour of work, but it won't affect my sleep later. It's true that stimulants may help you stay awake or alert for a given amount of time, but the substances stay in your body long after that initial jolt. If you drink a 12 oz. soda at 7pm, 50% of the caffeine will still be in your system at 11pm.
- Alcohol will help me sleep. While alcohol consumption may initially help some people fall asleep, it interferes with a restful night's sleep by interrupting the sleep cycle and increases the number of times you will wake up during the night. Passing out is not the same as going to sleep.
- I can "catch up" on sleep on the weekends. While weekends offer opportunity for a few extra hours for zzzz's (especially if you've stayed up later than usual), try to keep your weekend wake time within an hour or two of your weekday wake time. If you’re feeling tired during the day due to lack of nighttime sleep, we recommend scheduling a nap in the early afternoon. Check out our Nap Map for some student-vetted on-campus options!
- If I sleep, I'm missing out on valuable study time. Planning ahead can help you avoid all-nighters. In fact, getting 8 hours of sleep the night before a test has been shown in studies to be more beneficial to actual test performance than staying up all night to study. Visit the Sanger Learning Center to find help with time management.
Should I seek help?
See a healthcare provider if you experience any of the following problems:
- Your sleep problems interfere with school, work, or relationships with friends or family.
- You rely on sleep aids or alcohol to make you sleep or on amphetamines or stimulants to keep you alert.
- You have depression, chronic anxiety, pain, a change in medication, or any other condition that may affect your sleep.
- You snore heavily or stop breathing at intervals during the night, often starting again with a gasp. If your roommate, spouse, or partner complains about your snoring, tell your healthcare provider.