Almost all of us collegiate women have a love-hate relationship with sleep. I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t always look forward to snuggling into their blankets at night and taking a deep and long break from the craziness of life. However, it seems to be something we can never get enough of — whether it be from overly-busy schedules, stress from work and school, or even medical problems preventing us from getting the rest our bodies need. Insomnia is a very real and serious condition that countless people struggle with across the world.
For starters, what is insomnia? According to Dr. Jennifer Wider, it’s the difficulty or inability to sleep, and something that Dr. Wider says is more common in women, especially on college campuses. It’s caused by many elements, ranging from stress and unhealthy sleeping routines to more serious factors like medical conditions or chronic pain. While some cases require professional assistance from specialists or doctors to address, there are a few ways each of us can improve our nightly sleeping habits. We reached out to specialists and experts on sleeping problems and insomnia to find out the best things one can do if having a hard time falling or staying asleep.
1. Stick to a schedule
This is arguably one of the hardest things for college students to do, but so important in achieving maximum restful sleep. Alistair MacLean, a psychology professor at Queen’s University specializing in sleep disorders and deprivation, emphasizes the importance of going to bed at or around the same time each night. This will establish a regular rhythm for your body and make falling asleep easier. He recommends aiming for at least seven-and-a-half hours of sleep each night.
2. Try some effective stress-relievers
Dr. Wider as well as Dr. Charles Morin, the research chair of sleep disorders at Laval University, both state that engaging in relaxing activities to relieve stress will improve your ability to sleep. Find something that is calming for you to do, such as stretching, reading or listening to music. Hannah, a junior at the University of Maryland, says her favorite thing to do before going to sleep is trying new yoga poses. "They help me unwind and decompress from the day," she says. Experiment to see what is best for you to prepare your body for bed.
3. Put away your phone
We all like to decompress by checking texts and social media on our phones, but having bright screens right before bedtime can be impeding your ability to fall asleep. Dr. Morin suggests in terms of combating insomnia, “most importantly, leave all electronics outside the bedroom at night.” It’ll allow your mind and body to truly relax, and help your eyes adjust to the dark environment faster. Since going cold turkey with phones can be near-impossible for some of us, try turning on the iPhone's 'night mode' to dim the brightness and colors of your screen.
4. Be careful with the caffeine
According to Dr. Wider, “Many people need to stop ingesting caffeine by 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. at the latest.” Drinking coffee or consuming certain chocolates or other forms of caffeine late in the day can keep you up, since caffeine takes several hours to be fully absorbed by the body. Try to keep your one (or five) daily cups of coffee to before lunchtime in order to give your body ample time to process it without inhibiting sleep.
5. Create a conducive sleep environment
This may go without saying, but having a dark and quiet place to sleep will, not surprisingly, lead to more sleep. By turning lights off, keeping noise levels down and having a mattress or pillows that are comfortable and provide the specific support your body needs, you’ll have a much easier time going to bed than if you’re struggling with bright lights or loud roommates on a lumpy futon. If you can’t get absolute quiet, try a white noise machine, or even some earplugs to help minimize noise. If your mattress is the issue, a mattress pad or topper can be a cheaper, quicker fix.
6. Watch your workouts
Exercise is a vital component of maintaining physical health, but working out too close to bedtime can be a cause of your tossing and turning at night. Dr. Wider says that the adrenaline which is produced in the body from exercising can keep you awake, and recommends hitting the gym earlier in the day to prevent this. If your schedule doesn't allow for an early workout, drink lots of water and follow up with a hot bath or shower, since the rapid drop in temperature will likely help you feel sleepy and transition your body into sleep-mode.
7. Stop the naps
Also somewhat self-explanatory, but taking naps for longer than half-an-hour during the day will make you less tired at night. If you’re tired by the afternoon, your body definitely is in need of more sleep, but holding off until later will help set a rhythm for yourself and allow for deeper and more regular sleep.
8. Don’t force it
Dr. Morin says that trying to force sleep “will only keep you awake longer.” Watching the clock or lying in bed staring at the ceiling for hours won’t help, so try doing something calming to unwind to keep you from getting stressed about the lack of sleep, which would only keep you up even later!
Sleep is so important for health in all areas — physical, mental, emotional, to name a few, and is not something that should be sacrificed, especially for perpetually-busy and stressed college women. If you’ve been struggling with insomnia, try some of these tips to get a better night’s sleep, and if the problem persists, make an appointment with your doctor or school specialist to receive the best assistance possible. You deserve your beauty sleep!