Setting up Patterns for Sleep Success

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Patterns. Sleep is all about patterns – we do it every single night, and our ability to sleep relies on the patterns we create with our daily lives. What else do you do every day that you could shift to help your sleep become a more regular pattern?

  • Exercise routine: A tired body usually means a tired mind. Make it a goal to move your body every single day.
  • Meditation: The main requirement of meditation? Focusing your thoughts – either on your breath or a mantra, something simple, like “I will be more mindful.” Beyond that – the where and the how long and pretty much everything else is up to you. Even a few minutes a day can help. Schedule it in – perhaps first thing when you wake up and right before you fall asleep. You can even meditate in your bed – that’s absolutely allowed.
  • Eat a variety of nutrient dense, processed-as-little-as-possible foods. These are less likely to have caffeine nor high amounts of sugar and are more likely to nourish your body the way it needs.
  • Create a routine of when you go to bed and wake up. College makes this difficult, but really – we all could use more regular sleep and wake times. Ideally this includes weekends as well. Is there a wake time you could imagine working for your weekdays and weekends? Try it out for a week and see how it goes.
  • Create a sleep sanctuary. What’s your bedroom like? Cool it down at night, try to keep it quiet (now’s a great time to try earplugs and white noise at night if you have loud roommates), keep it dark (a sleep mask or blackout curtains might help!). Do anything you can to make your bedroom a place of relaxation and relief from the stress of the outside world.

What do you do right before you try to fall asleep?

  • Screen use just before bed: consider installing a filter to add red to the visual. Research has shown that blue lights of screens can mess with our brains, where the red filter helps our brain think of sunsets and sleep.  Or consider keeping all screens out of your bedroom. Make your room a space reserved for sleep.
  • Exercise just before bed: consider doing more flow yoga or a chill walk just before bed and scheduling your hardcore cardio and lifting to earlier in the day or early evening. But – your bigger priority should be to get exercise at some time each day. Movement helps our bodies be tired and ready to sleep.
  • Good options before bedtime: book reading, meditation, writing down things from the day that are running through your brain so you don’t have to think about them anymore, really any sleep routine. A good example of a sleep routine? Take a warm shower, put on pajamas, brush your teeth, read a chapter of a good novel, earplugs in, sleep mask on, nightymcnightpants.

After you have put in some effort into sleep hygiene (that’s a real term describing steps like those above), and you’re still having trouble, come see a provider at Campus Health. Some providers may recommend further changes to sleep hygiene, medication, or the use of a phone app (CBT-i Coach on Play and iTunes), which can be used alone and in conjunction with a medical provider to improve your sleep. Make an appointment at CHS to learn more.

 

Photo credit: Gabriel Gonzalez, Flickr Creative Commons

Creating a Sleep Sanctuary

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“Sleeping” by Shannon Kokoska. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Sleep. Wonderful, elusive sleep. When you sleep well, you mind is rested and your body is restored 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 college 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. You can focus on sleep hygiene 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 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”?

  • Light: 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.
  • Stress Management: Managing your anxiety and stress, particularly before sleep, helps you get 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. In the evening, focus on yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises to bring down your stress and anxiety in a sleep friendly way.
  • Move your clock: 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 you turn your clock away from you or keep it far enough away so you can’t see the time when you wake up in the middle of the night.
  • Sleep only: Make your bed a sacred space. TV, laptops, and video games in bed might feel comfy and convenient, but it also puts a good night’s sleep at risk. Use your bed only for sleep and self-care, like stretching and reading.
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“Empty Bed” by Lillie Kate. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

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.

Mission Impossible: Sleep and the UNC Student

“Sleep, social life, or good grades,” my buddy said with a grin, “pick two.”

College sleep

By now, you understand how busy life at UNC can become – which makes the statement above a bit closer to reality than most of us would like. With all the organizations to join, social events to attend, people to meet, languages to learn, papers to write, and projects to complete, most students at UNC wish for more hours in a day. Sometimes, they get those extra hours by forgoing sleep.

Especially at a competitive school like UNC, students quickly fall into the dangerous trap of taking pride in sacrificing sleep for academics. I’ve heard many UNC students brag about pulling an all-nighter. People even say things like “I can sleep when I’m dead.” or “Sleep is for sissies.” (That last one is advice a professor gave me at UNC. Yikes.).

Given the culture surrounding sleep on a competitive college campus, I know that prioritizing sleep is going to be difficult. But the research is clear: getting enough sleep has wide-ranging benefits in areas that are especially important to students such as memory, focus, and stress.

Benefits of Sleep

Truthfully, researchers don’t really know why we sleep.

They do know that when people are sleep-deprived, their attention, focus, motivation to learn, creativity, ability to think abstractly, and vigilance are all decreased. This makes it harder to receive and properly process incoming information, and makes it more likely that we make sloppy errors in our work.  When tired, neurons don’t function properly, and we are less able to recall previously learned information. Can’t learn new things? Can’t remember old things? Lack of sleep takes its toll on the student’s brain.

In addition to negatively affecting memory both before and after learning, inadequate sleep impairs judgment, mood, motivation, and how we perceive events. Over time, poor sleep has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and depression.  Lack of sleep can also lead to weight gain.

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New research has even suggested that not getting enough sleep makes us appear unattractive and sad.

If you don’t get enough sleep over time, you build up a sleep debt.

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Sleep is good. I get it. Now what?

Getting good sleep is about developing good habits, or “Sleep Hygiene.” Harvard Medical School has a Division of Sleep Medicine website which I highly recommend if you are interested in learning more about sleep. They have listed 12 tips for improving sleep which are amazingRead them nowSeriously.

Below is the abbreviated version. For full explanations, hit the links above!

  1. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep (especially 4-6 hours before bedtime).
  2. Turn your bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment. Keep work, electronic devices and bright lights out of the bedroom.
  3. Establish a soothing pre-sleep routine.
  4. Only go to sleep when you are truly tired.
  5. Don’t be a nighttime clock-watcher.
  6. Use natural light to your advantage to stay on a natural awake-sleep schedule. Avoid devices after nightfall, or if you can’t turn off your mobile device or laptop, consider a red-light filter to remind your body when it is time for sleep.
  7. Keep your internal clock set with a consistent sleep schedule.
  8. Nap early, before 5pm, or not at all.
  9. Lighten up on evening meals.
  10. Balance fluid intake.
  11. Exercise. Ideally early in the day, and at least 3 hours before bedtime.
  12. Stick with your new sleep routine!

Want more info? Check out greatist.com’s list of 27 ways to sleep better tonight.  The NY Times has some great info on sleeping better in their wellness section, like steps for more, and better, sleep and how exercise can help us sleep better.

It’s easy to let your work slip into sleepy time, but remember that doing so makes your hard-working brain work even harder. Instead of pulling an all-nighter, plan ahead and break up studying into multiple smaller sessions. Sleeping between bouts of studying will help consolidate your memories and help you do better on your test. When socializing, make sure you are taking into account how much sleep you have been getting before deciding to hang out with friends late at night.

If you are still having issues with sleep, come into UNC Counseling and Psychological Services or Campus Health Services. Both services offer insight to support UNC grad and undergrad students in getting higher quality and more regular sleep.

Happy Sleeping!

This post was originally published Sept 27, 2013. It has been edited for clarity.

5 Apps to Help You Sleep and Nap Better

This post is written by Emily Wheeler and is published as a part of our blog exchange with Tar-Heel Tone Up.

I’m sure we’re all starting to feel the effects of 8 weeks of accumulated sleep deprivation that the semester has caused. Fall Break was a welcome chance to have fun with friends and family, but also to take some time to catch up on rest and reset to healthier habits for the second half of the semester.

Since we rely on our phones so much these days, I’ve looked up a handful of apps designed to help you fall asleep more easily, track your sleep cycles, and even wake up more easily. Every app is free or less than $5, so if you find yourself wishing for better sleep every day, consider giving them a try!

  1. Sleep Cycle for iOS

This highly impressive $1 app requires you to place your phone on your bed beside your pillow in order for it to use your motion throughout the night as a way to track your sleep cycles. The app collects data during the night and then shows you easy-to-read graphs in the morning about your sleep quality! It also has a nifty alarm clock feature that allows you to set a time range, during which the app will wake you up during the moments in that range when you’re sleeping most lightly, helping you to wake up at the best possible time for your body. When the alarm goes off, you get a good morning message and a weather report for the day, but you can also run the app in the background and set a separate alarm if you wish!

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  1. Sleepbot for Android

Believe it or not, the most popular mobile phone brand in the world is not the iPhone, so for all of the many Android users, Sleepbot is a great Android app similar to Sleep Cycle, mentioned above. It also tracks your movement as you sleep and creates various graphs of information about your sleeping patterns. It also records sound so you can hear if you snore or talk in your sleep, which is actually a really unappealing feature to me but hey, whatever floats your boat.

Although it was originally an Android app, it is also now available for iPhone. The app does work with other Android alarm clock apps however, so if you’re using it from an Android you can use your favorite alarm clock app along with Sleepbot. The app is free and also has a paired webapp so you can view your sleep stats on your computer as well!

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  1. Sleepmaker Rain

I absolutely love falling asleep to the sound of rain outside my window, and the Sleepmaker Rain app simulates different rain sounds ranging from “gentle onto forest foliage” to “heavy torrential downpour.” You can pick from 20 different rain options to lure you to sleep on restless nights.

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  1. aSleep for iOS

This $1 app has a huge variety of soothing sounds that include nature sounds, instruments, lullabies, and life sounds such as helicopters, showers, and a heartbeat. You can choose a duration for the sound to play, which preserves your battery after you fall asleep.

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  1. Relax and Sleep Well by Glenn Harrold

If the sounds of rain or nature aren’t your preferred sounds to help you sleep, you can try listening to a 27-minute self-hypnosis recording. This audio clip is designed to help you clear your mind as you listen to the lovely British accent of Glenn Harold, a clinical hypnotherapist. Whatever works, right?

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Whether you choose to try an app that uses measurements of your sleep patterns to help you wake up more easily, plays soothing sounds to help you relax, or uses hypnosis to lull you into slumber, you may be pleasantly surprised by what these sleep-help apps can do! Even though I rarely have trouble falling asleep, I enjoy using Sleep Cycle just because I think it’s interesting to see graphs of my sleep patterns over the course of a night or a whole week. I also find the nature sounds soothing when I’m trying to study because it helps create a more peaceful atmosphere that helps me focus.

If you’re looking to improve your sleep quality and quantity for the second half of the semester, or just trying to take a great afternoon nap, try out some of these sleep-help apps and see what you think!

News Roundup: what’s more important – exercise or sleep?

This blog post was written by Emily Wheeler and is published as part of our blog exchange with Tar Heel Tone-Up

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Today we are tackling an important – and probably relevant – question raised by some of our readers. We have 24 hours in a day, but for those of use who want to pack in as much as possible, it may not be possible to do it all. In some situations, we have to forgo study time, sleep hours, or a night out with friends to make it all work.

If it comes down to it– what’s more crucial: an hour of exercise, or an extra hour of sleep?

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/20/ask-well-sleep-or-exercise/

The New York Times polled two physicians and learned that sleep and exercise share a “bi-directional relationship.” They write that exercise can actually lead to deeper, more restorative sleep. But they warn that sleeping for less than seven hours is a risky path to go down, possibly resulting in next-day drowsiness and lower motivation.

http://www.shape.com/celebrities/star-trainers/ask-celebrity-trainer-should-you-skip-sleep-fit-workout

A Shape.com article emphasized the absolute necessity of getting enough sleep at night, particularly if your goal is to maintain a healthy weight. The trainer featured in the article said that her opinion is that sleep is more important the exercise.

http://greatist.com/fitness/dear-greatist-which-more-important-sleep-or-exercise

Greatist.com makes a key point that not everyone needs the same amount of sleep. Not to mention – if you exercise more during a given day, your body might need more sleep time to repair and recover. They write that a key factor in workouts is their duration, and to aim for anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour, depending on your personal goals.

Sleep well and be active, my friends 🙂

image from theeffect.net

Five percent of adults suffer from…SLEEP TALKING!

One night last year, I was going about my usual nighttime schedule which involved watching Friends on TV in the living room and falling asleep before 11:30pm while my roommate studied Biochem. All of the sudden, I heard myself scream, “OH MY GOSH! IT’S RIGHT THERE ABOVE MY HEAD, OH MY GOSH! IT’S ON ME.” So, naturally I woke myself up and just continued screaming. I awkwardly and frantically threw myself off the couch and onto the floor. I started hitting my head trying to kill this massive spider that I was convinced existed while simultaneously crawling all over the living room floor. Finally, I sat back on the floor, relieved, thinking I had defeated this spider….only to see my roommate staring at me with her eyes and mouth wide open in shock at what she had just witnessed.

“What the HELL, Jani?!”

“There was a bug! I don’t see it, but I think it’s gone now!”

“NO!! All of the sudden, you just started screaming that there was something on you! You were fast asleep, what the HELL!”

“Oh….I think…Hold up, I’m confused. Was that not real?”

“NO!!! That was weird. I’m pretty sure you were sleep talking again.”

That I was! I suffer from mild somniloquy, otherwise known as sleep talking. According to the National Sleep Foundation, somniloquy is a sleep disorder defined as talking during any stage of sleep without being aware of it and “can occur with varying levels of comprehensibility.” It occurs in half of young children and in about 5% of adults; it is more common in males and children. It is usually quite harmless other than causing a nuisance to those around you and possibly embarrassing the sleep talker.

Obviously, the main symptom of somniloquy is sleep talking, but this can vary in severity or duration depending how asleep they are. For example, people tend to speak more coherently in light sleep, while in the later stages they may be restricted to moans and unintelligible sounds. The severity and duration may also depend on the individual’s triggers and well-being.

There are several triggers for sleep talking. Some include stress, depression, fever, and sleep deprivation. Sleep talking may also be a symptom of other sleep disorders like nightmares, sleep apnea, and REM sleep behavior disorder.  In very rare cases, sleeping talking in people over age 25 may be linked to mental and medical illnesses. Sleep talking also runs in families, which funnily enough, my dad enjoys telling stories about my mom talking to the fridge in her sleep.

Treatment for somniloquy is generally unnecessary; however, if you are worried there may be an underlying medical explanation, it may be helpful to speak to a physician or sleep specialist. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that practicing proper sleep hygiene can help reduce the symptoms of or prevent somniloquy. This may include having a regular sleep schedule and avoiding alcohol, heavy meals, and excessive stressors before heading off to bed!

Do you live with roommates and are worried about bugging them Wear earplugs, get a noise machine, or get 100,000 views on a hilarious YouTube video of your roommate sleeptalking….

Mission Impossible: Sleep and the College Student

“Sleep, social life, or good grades,” my buddy said with a grin, “pick two.”

College sleep

By now, you may have heard that statement about how busy life in college can get. With all kinds of student organizations to join, social events to attend, new people to meet, languages to learn, papers to write, and projects/problems sets/lab reports to complete, every college student wishes for more hours in a day. Sometimes, they get those extra hours by forgoing sleep.

Especially at a competitive school like UNC, people fall into the dangerous trap of taking pride in sacrificing sleep for academics. I’ve heard many UNC students brag about pulling an all-nighter in Davis Library. People even say things like “I can sleep when I’m dead.” or “Sleep is for sissies.” (That last one is advice a professor gave me my senior year at UNC).

Given the culture surrounding sleep on a competitive college campus, I know that getting people to prioritize sleep is going to be hard. But the research is clear: getting enough sleep has wide-ranging benefits in areas that are especially important to college students, like memory, focus, and stress.

Benefits of Sleep

Truthfully, researchers don’t really know why we sleep.

However, we do know that when sleep-deprived, our attention, focus, motivation to learn, creativity, ability to think abstractly, and vigilance are all decreased. This makes it harder to receive and properly process incoming information, and makes it more likely that we make sloppy errors in our work.  In addition, our neurons don’t function properly, and we are less able to recall previously learned information. Can’t learn new things? Can’t remember old things? Lack of sleep takes its toll on the student’s brain.

In addition to negatively affecting memory both before and after learning, inadequate sleep impairs judgment, mood, motivation, and how we perceive events. Over time, poor sleep has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and depression.  Lack of sleep can also lead to weight gain.

Effects_of_sleep_deprivation.svg

New research has even suggested that not getting enough sleep makes us appear unattractive and sad.

If you don’t get enough sleep over time, you build up a sleep debt.

sleeprefresh

So to be happier, sharper, smarter, and better at making decisions, get enough sleep every night!

Sleep is good. I get it. Now what?

                Getting good sleep is about developing good habits, or “Sleep Hygiene”. Harvard Medical School has a Division of Sleep Medicine website which I highly recommend if you are interested in learning more about sleep. They have listed 12 tips for improving sleep which are amazingRead them nowSeriously.

Below is the abbreviated version. For full explanations, hit the links above!

  1. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep (especially 4-6 hours before bedtime).
  2. Turn your bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment. Keep work, TV, and bright lights out of the bedroom.
  3. Establish a soothing pre-sleep routine.
  4. Only go to sleep when you are truly tired.
  5. Don’t be a nighttime clock-watcher.
  6. Use natural light to your advantage: to stay on a natural awake-sleep schedule.
  7. Keep your internal clock set with a consistent sleep schedule.
  8. Nap early, before 5pm, or not at all.
  9. Lighten up on evening meals.
  10. Balance fluid intake.
  11. Exercise. And do it early in the day, and at least 3 hours before bedtime.
  12. Stick with your new sleep routine!

In addition, check out greatist.com’s list of 27 ways to sleep better tonight. And, the NY Times has some great info on sleeping better in their wellness section, like steps for more, and better, sleep and how exercise can help us sleep better.

It’s easy to let your school work slip into sleepy time, but that isn’t what’s best for your brain. So instead of pulling an all-nighter, plan ahead and break up studying into multiple smaller sessions. Sleeping between bouts of studying will help consolidate your memories and help you do better on your test. And when it comes to your social life, make sure you are taking into account how much sleep you have been getting before deciding to hang out with friends late at night.

If you are still having issues with sleep, feel free to walk in to UNC Counseling and Psychological Services in the Campus Health building. They are a great resource for helping students get better sleep, and they are familiar with meeting students with sleep issues as they are common amongst college students.

Happy Sleeping!