Sleep. Wonderful, elusive sleep. Sleep provides us time to rest and restore our bodies after the wear and tear of everyday life. People who get 8-10 hours of sleep a night have been found to run faster, have lower stress levels, avoid accidents, and live an overall happier life. But what happens when our commitments interfere with our sleep schedule?
Being in school can–unfortunately for many–mean sacrificing getting a proper night’s sleep in order to balance academics, extracurriculars, and a fulfilling social life. The negative effects of sleep deprivation are well documented, and can range from impaired memory and critical thinking skills, weight gain, and even severe health problems like heart disease over time. Paying special attention to your sleep hygiene is one way to combat that.
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene, contrary to what the name may lead you to believe, is not about making sure that your body and bed is clean and nicely made every day. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep hygiene is simply a “variety of different practices that are necessary to have normal, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness.” One fun way to enhance your sleep hygiene is to create a “sleep sanctuary” for yourself to promote healthy sleep habits and a soothing sleep environment.
How can I make my own “sleep sanctuary”?
One simple step to start with is to be conscious of the light in your bedroom. Blue light from phones, computers, TVs, and even LED lights can disrupt the body’s sleep cycle and interrupt the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your sleep patterns. Sometimes, though, late night homework and phone usage happens. Apps like f.lux can help minimize the amount of blue light coming from your screen, so late night study sessions (or Netflix) won’t impact your sleep quite as much.
Reducing your anxiety and stress is also key to getting a good night’s sleep. Although exercise during the day can help reduce anxiety and stress, intense exercise soon before bedtime can actually provide a boost of energy that will keep you up longer, so try and focus on yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises to help you bring down your stress and anxiety in a sleep friendly way. Alarm clocks can also be a serious detriment to sleep. Looking at the clock while trying to fall asleep can increase anxiety, making it harder for people to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. Researchers suggest even turning your clock away from you or keeping it far enough away so you can’t see the time when you wake up in the middle of the night.
And last, but certainly not least, make your bed a sacred space. Sitting in bed watching TV, working on your laptop, or playing video games is both comfy and convenient, but it could be putting a good night’s sleep at risk. Try to use your bed only for sleep and self-care, like stretching and reading – if you start to bring stressful things into your bed, you may start to associate those feelings with sleep!
What are some things you’d want in your sleep sanctuary? Let us know in the comments!
Kristan is a Program Assistant for Health & Wellness at UNC Student Wellness. Read their bio here.