Are you sleepy?

Here are signs that you may need more sleep:

  • “Zoning out” or dozing off during the day
  • Losing track of lectures, readings, or videos
  • Excessive blinking or yawning
  • Tripping or stumbling more than usual
  • Feeling sluggish.

What can SNOOZE do for you?

The amount of sleep that a college student gets is one of the strongest predictors of academic success. Here’s how sleep helps.

  • Fosters memory formation and learning: Save yourself some study time—your brain will be hard at work solidifying memories while you sleep.
  • Regulates mental and emotional health: Sleep helps you take on challenges with more resilience and less drama.
  • Keeps your immune system strong: You’re more likely to get sick when sleep-deprived, which could mean missing out on social activities, class, and other important events.
  • Supports physical health: Sleep helps regulate metabolism and body weight, among many other body functions.
  • Enhances your productivity: Getting quality sleep boosts productivity, which can free up time for friends, hobbies, or more sleep!
  • Helps you stay alert and safe: Dozing off in class may be awkward, but falling asleep at work or at the wheel could be dangerous. Did you know that drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving?

Top tips for students

  • Nap!: A nap lasting 15-45 minutes can give you energy, make you more alert and improve mental performance. But beware: naps longer than 30-45 minutes (after you enter deep sleep) may actually leave you feeling more groggy and tired! Avoid late afternoon and evening naps, which can disrupt night sleep.
  • Your wake time is actually more important than your bedtime in regulating your sleep patterns. Aim to wake up at approximately the same time every day, even weekends. At the very least, try to avoid an erratic wake schedule, even if this means scheduling later classes so you can have a more consistent wake time.
  • Sleeping in: It’s a myth that you can make-up for lost sleep during the week. Most people need to be awake for 16-17 hours to be able to fall asleep at night. So sleep in until noon on the weekend, it might be hard to fall asleep before 3 or 4AM, which can perpetuate a late sleep cycle. Try to wake up a little earlier (even 15-30 minutes earlier than normal) so that you can fall asleep at night.
  • Steer clear of all-nighters: Staying up all night decreases your ability to process and analyze information, so you may do worse on exams or assignments the next day. To best prepare your mind, get 7-9 hours of sleep, but even a few hours of sleep are better than none.
  • Trouble falling asleep: Try using white noise, listening to music etc.
  • Turn off screens 30-60 minutes before bed: Staring at your TV, computer, or tablet screen can disrupt your natural sleep-wake cycle and make it harder to fall asleep. If you can’t turn off the tech, dim your screen, put your phone on silent, or use the “Do not disturb” option on your phone.
  • Exercise regularly to create a more restful sleep, but avoid exercise within two hours of bedtime because it may be too energizing.
  • Rethink your drink:  Both caffeine and alcohol can disrupt your sleep. Caffeine stays in your system for up to eight hours and can keep you awake. Alcohol, though it may make you feel drowsy, decreases sleep duration and quality.
  • Create a positive sleep environment. Think cool, dark and quiet! Use thick curtains or an eye mask to block out light and a white noise machine or ear plugs to reduce noise.
  • Clear your mind and relax. Journaling can help de-clutter your mind, and soothing music or warm non-caffeinated tea can help you relax.

When sleep is a problem

Minor sleep problems can be managed through lifestyle changes.

If you don’t fall asleep within twenty minutes of going to bed, try reading or doing something relaxing until you feel more tired.

Try using an online REM (rapid eye movement) cycle monitor to help determine the best time to wake up based on your bedtime. It could help you wake up during a lighter stage of sleep, leaving you feeling more rested.

If you experience extreme or persistent sleep difficulties, you may have a sleep disorder. Examples include:

  • Inability to fall or stay asleep
  • Being too sleepy during the day
  • Snoring or pauses in your breathing during sleep.

 

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, resulting in unrefreshing or non-restorative sleep. Anyone who’s laid awake at night knows how frustrating and upsetting it can be to spend hours in bed willing sleep to come—and knowing just how bad you’re going to feel in the morning if it doesn’t. Insomnia can adversely impact all aspects of your health and well-being, leaving you feeling fatigued, drowsy, and low on energy during the day, affecting your mood and concentration levels, and damaging your productivity at work or school. Insomnia can also pressure you into relying on sleeping pills, sleep aids, or alcohol to help you sleep—which in the long-run only makes your sleep problems worse. Chronic insomnia can even take a serious toll on your physical and mental health, increasing your risk of health problems such as stroke, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and certain cancers.

No matter how long you’ve been suffering from insomnia or how frequently you struggle to sleep, don’t despair. While it can take time to correct the habits that contribute to your sleep problems, there are plenty of things you can do to help overcome insomnia and enjoy a full and restful night’s sleep. The first step is to identify the type of insomnia you’re struggling with.

Types of insomnia

Short-term or acute insomnia is a temporary problem stemming from changes in your normal routine due to illness, travel, grief, hormone fluctuations, or stress. Most of us experience this type of insomnia at some point in our lives and while it usually resolves itself when your routine returns to normal, addressing the problem early can ensure your insomnia doesn’t persist.

Long-term or chronic insomnia occurs when you regularly experience trouble sleeping (three or more nights a week) over an extended period of time (three months or more). Since chronic insomnia has been ingrained over months, changing the unhealthy habits or thought patterns that fuel your insomnia can sometimes take time, perseverance, and a willingness to experiment with different solutions.

Insomnia can be further categorized as:

Sleep onset insomnia – This is when you have difficulty falling asleep despite feeling tired. While good sleepers are able to fall asleep with 15 to 20 minutes of going to bed, if you have sleep onset insomnia you may toss and turn for hours before sleep finally comes.

Sleep maintenance insomnia – A condition where you find it difficult to stay asleep. While it’s normal to wake up briefly during the night, good sleepers usually don’t remember. But if you have sleep maintenance insomnia, you may lay awake for hours in the middle of the night struggling to get back to sleep, and/or you wake up too early in the morning. The result is the same: you get out of bed not feeling refreshed.

Why can’t I sleep?

While short-term insomnia is usually due to a temporary interruption of your routine, long-term or chronic insomnia is more likely caused by unhealthy daytime and bedtime habits, shift work, a less than ideal sleep environment, or underlying medical or psychological issues—or a combination of these factors.

Psychological and medical causes of insomnia

Anxiety, stress, and depression are some of the most common causes of chronic insomnia. Having difficulty sleeping can also make anxiety, stress, and depression symptoms worse. Other common emotional and psychological causes include anger, worry, grief, bipolar disorder, and trauma. Treating these underlying problems is essential to resolving your insomnia.

Medical problems or illness. Many medical conditions and diseases can contribute to insomnia, including asthma, allergies, Parkinson’s disease, hyperthyroidism, acid reflux, kidney disease, and cancer. Chronic pain is also a common cause of insomnia.

Medications. Many prescription drugs can interfere with sleep, including antidepressants, stimulants for ADHD, corticosteroids, thyroid hormone, high blood pressure medications, and some contraceptives. Common over-the-counter culprits include cold and flu medications that contain alcohol, pain relievers that contain caffeine (Midol, Excedrin), diuretics, and slimming pills.

Sleep disorders. Insomnia is itself a sleep disorder, but it can also be a symptom of other sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and circadian rhythm disturbances tied to jet lag or late-night shift work.

Daytime habits that cause insomnia

Having an irregular sleep schedule, napping, drinking caffeinated beverages late in the day, eating sugary foods or heavy meals too close to bedtime, and not getting enough exercise are all examples of daytime habits that can impact your ability to sleep at night.

Another common habit linked to insomnia is overstimulating the brain during the day, making it harder to clear your head at night. Many of us overstress our brains during the day by repeatedly interrupting tasks to check the phone, email, or social media. The brain becomes so conditioned to constantly seeking fresh stimulation that when it comes time to unwind at night your brain is still looking for the next information fix.

As well as avoiding screens in the hours before bedtime, try to set aside specific times during the day for checking messages and social media, allowing your brain to spend more time focusing on one task at a time. Taking short breaks from technology during the day and doing non-stimulating activities can also help to recondition your brain’s habit of constantly looking for new stimulus.

What to do when you can’t fall asleep

One of the most common causes of sleep onset insomnia is anxiety or chronic worry. You get into bed at night but can’t fall asleep because your mind is racing with anxious thoughts about what you didn’t get done today, about what tomorrow might hold, or simply feeling overwhelmed by daily responsibilities.

As well as addressing daytime habits that contribute to sleep onset insomnia—such as avoiding caffeine late in the day and exercising in the morning or afternoon—there are steps you can take to learn how to stop worrying at bedtime and look at life from a more positive perspective. To help calm your mind and prepare for sleep, you can also try:

Using the bedroom only for sleeping and sex. Don’t work, watch TV, or use your computer in bed or the bedroom. The goal is to associate the bedroom with sleep alone, so that your brain and body get a strong signal that it’s time to nod off when you get in bed.

Turning off all screens at least an hour before bed, dimming the lights, and focusing on quiet, soothing activities, such as reading, knitting, or listening to soft music.

Avoiding stimulating activity and stressful situations before bedtime. This includes big discussions or arguments with your spouse or family, or catching up on work. Postpone these things until the morning.

Moving bedroom clocks out of view. Anxiously watching the minutes tick by when you can’t sleep—knowing that you’re going to be exhausted when the alarm goes off—is a surefire recipe for insomnia. You can use an alarm, but make sure you can’t see the time when you’re in bed.

Getting out of bed when you can’t sleep. Don’t try to force yourself to sleep. Tossing and turning only amps up the anxiety. Get up, leave the bedroom, and do something relaxing, such as reading, drinking a cup of herbal tea, or taking a bath. When you’re sleepy, go back to bed.

Harnessing your body’s relaxation response. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing not only help you quiet your mind and relieve tension in the body, but they also help you fall asleep faster. It takes regular practice to learn these techniques and harness their stress-relieving power. But the benefits can be huge. You can do them as part of your bedtime routine or when you are lying down preparing for sleep. A variety of smartphone apps can guide you through the different relaxation methods, or you can follow these techniques:

What to do when you can’t stay asleep

One of the keys to countering sleep maintenance insomnia is to figure out why you’re waking up in the night or too early in the morning. If light from streetlamps or noise from traffic, neighbors, or roommates is disturbing your sleep, for example, the answer could be as simple as wearing an eye mask or ear plugs. If you’re awake at 2 a.m. worrying, you need to take steps to get your anxiety under control.

Things to avoid before bed:

Drinking too many liquids in the evening. Waking up at night to go to the bathroom becomes a bigger problem as we age. By not drinking anything an hour before sleep and going to the bathroom several times as you get ready for bed, you can reduce the frequency you’ll wake up to go during the night.

Alcohol before bed. While a nightcap may help you to relax and fall asleep, it interferes with your sleep cycle once you’re out, causing you to wake up during the night.

Big meals at night. Try to make dinnertime earlier in the evening, and avoid heavy, rich foods within two hours of bed. Spicy or acidic foods can cause stomach trouble and heartburn which can wake you during the night.

What to do when you wake up at night:

Stay out of your head. Hard as it may be, try not to stress over your inability to fall asleep again, because that stress only encourages your body to stay awake. To stay out of your head, focus on the feelings in your body or practice breathing exercises. Take a breath in, then breathe out slowly while saying or thinking the word, “Ahhh.” Take another breath and repeat.

Make relaxation your goal, not sleep. If you find it hard to fall back asleep, try a relaxation technique such as visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation, which can be done without even getting out of bed. Even though it’s not a replacement for sleep, relaxation can still help rejuvenate your mind and body.

Do a quiet, non-stimulating activity. If you’ve been awake for more than 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a quiet, non-stimulating activity, such as reading a book. Keep the lights dim and avoid screens so as not to cue your body that it’s time to wake up.

Postpone worrying and brainstorming. If you wake during the night feeling anxious about something, make a brief note of it on paper and postpone worrying about it until the next day when it will be easier to resolve. Similarly, if a great idea is keeping you awake, make a note of it on paper and fall back to sleep knowing you’ll be much more productive after a good night’s rest.

Cure insomnia by tackling daytime stress and worries

For many of us, our sleeping problems can be traced back to residual stress, worry, or anger from the day that makes it difficult to wind down and sleep well at night. The worse we sleep at night, the more stressed, worried, and angry we become. To break the pattern:

Get help with stress management. If the stress of managing work, family, or school is keeping you awake at night, learning how to handle stress in a productive way and to maintain a calm, positive outlook can help you sleep better at night.

Talk over your worries with a friend or loved one during the day. Talking face-to-face with someone who cares about you is a one of the best ways to relieve stress and put an end to bedtime worrying. The person you talk to doesn’t need to be able to fix your problems, but just needs to be an attentive, nonjudgmental listener.

Get enough exercise. Regular exercise not only relieves stress but improves the symptoms of insomnia, increases the amount of time you spend in the deep, restorative stages of sleep, and helps you to feel less sleepy during the day. To maximize sleep benefits, try to exercise vigorously for 30 minutes on most days—but not too close to bedtime.

Watch what you eat and drink. Caffeine can cause sleep problems 10 to 12 hours after drinking it, and your diet can also play a role in how well you sleep. Some people find that cutting back on sugary food and drinks and refined carbohydrates during the day makes it easier to sleep at night.

When to see a doctor about insomnia

If you’ve tried a variety of self-help techniques without success, schedule an appointment with a sleep specialist, especially if insomnia is taking a heavy toll on your mood and health. Provide the doctor with as much supporting information as possible, including information from your sleep diary.

Therapy vs. sleeping pills for insomnia

In general, sleeping pills and sleep aids are most effective when used sparingly for short-term situations, such as traveling across time zones or recovering from a medical procedure. Your insomnia won’t be cured by sleeping pills—in fact, over the long-term they can actually make insomnia worse.

Since many people complain that frustrating, negative thoughts and worries prevent them from sleeping at night, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be much more effective in addressing insomnia. CBT is a form of psychotherapy that treats problems by modifying negative thoughts, emotions, and patterns of behavior. It can be conducted individually, in a group, or even online. A study at Harvard Medical School found that CBT was more effective at treating chronic insomnia than prescription sleep medication—but without the risks or side effects.

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