In my experiences, I have never known a graduate student who complained about getting too much sleep or being too well-rested. In fact, some might argue that if you are not over-worked and over-slept, then you must be slacking in some area of your life. While I would argue that whoever says this probably has poor boundaries, but that is a different rant. Most of us at some time or another struggle with sleep – falling asleep, staying asleep, getting up in the morning. While we have all heard tips about getting better sleep – don’t drink caffeine too late, avoid napping during the day, warm tea, warm milk – some of us still find ourselves having difficulty sleeping. Here are some helpful sleep tips that hopefully will help you have most restful sleep.
Don’t fight difficulty sleeping.
I know for me, when I have trouble sleeping, I often find myself playing the game of, “If I fall asleep right now I will get X hours of sleep.” One hour later, “If I fall asleep right now, I will get X-1 hours of sleep.” While it is easy to get caught up on the amount, or lack thereof, of sleep, this loop can actually make it more difficult to sleep by keeping our mind busy. Try focusing on restfulness as your goal, as opposed to sleep. Even when we cannot fall asleep, our bodies and minds can still regenerate in a relaxed state. So next time you find yourself having trouble sleeping, instead of tossing and turning trying to fall asleep, simply lay in a comfortable position and take enjoyment in the comfort of your bed. Not only will you get more rest than if you were to fight against your difficulty sleeping, you might also find that you actually fall asleep easier when staying in a calm, relaxed position.
The truth about tea.
Many people try drinking hot tea before bed time to help them fall asleep; however, there is a common misconception that herbal is synonymous for caffeine free, which is not the case. In fact, there are many herbal teas that have just as much caffeine as a morning cup of coffee. When buying tea, check the ingredients to make sure that it does not have caffeine. Also, if you want to go the tea route, there are many blends of teas that are designed to help aid in sleep, which you may find helpful. Another note on tea, is that some people find that drinking liquids right before bed results in a need to use the restroom during the night. If you are one of these people I would not suggest drinking tea before bed.
Save it for the bedroom.
You should try to eliminate the amount of non-sleep activity that you do in your bed and bedroom. I know many people who enjoy lying in bed with a good book, movie, snack, or do school work in bed. I am not going to argue that the bed is a comfortable place to be, but doing non-sleep activities in bed may actually make falling asleep more difficult for some people. If we think back to Pavlov’s famous dogs, this makes a lot of sense. Pavlov unknowingly paired an unconditioned stimulus (sound of a bell) with a natural response (drooling for food), and was surprised to discover that over time, the sound of the bell created the same response of drooling. Now think about your sleep, if you pair your bed, which does not naturally have a biological response of sleep, with the body’s natural process of falling asleep, overtime, simply lying in bed can actually trigger the brain to begin the sleep process. Now what do you think would happen if Pavlov ran around the lab ringing bells all day long?
Drink plenty of water.
Our bodies work best when they are hydrated – a fact that I would imagine is not knew to you. However, many people often do not consider the impact of water intake on their sleep. Those who drink enough water often not only get more sleep, but also report more restful sleep. A good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces a day, accounting for the fact that caffeine and other diuretics deplete the body of water. If you do drink caffeine, you should drink twice as much water as you do caffeine – and that’s on top of your daily minimum requirement for water.
Keep a schedule.
Our brains naturally will form a sleep/wake cycle; however, we can either help or hurt the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle. For example, the brain will adjust to new hours of wakefulness if one were to switch from working a day shift to a night shift. One way that we can help our brain in creating and maintaining a healthy sleep schedule is to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Yes, this means going to bed early on Friday night, and waking up early Saturday morning. There will inevitably be instances where we simply are not able to follow this, and will need to stay up. And if you do find yourself having to stay up, try your best to still get up early the next day. While you might be tired the next day, this tiredness may actually help you fall back into your sleep schedule the following evening.
No more TV in bed.
Many people like to watch TV in bed until they fall asleep; however, TV may actually engage the brain too much, making sleep more difficult. If you do enjoy some type of stimulation to help unwind, try listening to books on tape, peaceful nature sounds, or white noise. Auditory stimulation may still give you the distraction from your mind that you are wanting, but does not include the visual stimulation – and urge to keep your eyes open – like the way TV or movies do.
Know your body.
There is no cookie cutter solution to difficulty sleeping. What works for one person may not work for another. As you continue to practice better sleep habits, notice how your body feels and what works best for you. Do you find it easier to sleep with some light, or in absolute dark? Do you sleep better with noise or in silence? Keeping a log of what you did the night before and how well you slept, may help you pin point the best sleep combination for you.
Having trouble sleeping is no fun, and we all have gone through it at one time or another. Trying these helpful hints may not only help you fall asleep easier, but increase the quality of your sleep, resulting in a more restful sleep.