When your semester begins and assignments start piling up, reaching ‘dreamland’ might sound like a fairytale, leaving you fidgeting up till 3am. Come deadlines and exams, pulling an all-nighter becomes a norm. And the current pandemic is not helping at all! The good news is that you have far more control over the quality of your sleep than you realise. Most of it has to do with how well you manage and spend your waking hours or your overall sleep hygiene. It’s no surprise that sleep can influence all aspects of your day and overall life as it has a direct impact on your mental and physical wellbeing. Falling short on sleep can take a negative toll on your productivity, day time energy, mood, concentration and memory, as well as your weight.
As someone who has been dealing with insomnia for the past year and a half, I’ve had a first-hand experience with the sleeping tips recommended in this article. After extensive research and countless experiments, I bring to you some tried-and-true tricks of sleeping which have helped me cope with university. So, keep reading for some pro tips.
1. Make a sleep routine
Having a sleep routine or a pre-bed routine can help you to relax and put your mind at ease which will help you to get that quality sleep you’ve been yearning for. This routine could include things as simple as brushing your teeth, performing your skincare routine to praying and meditating. Besides that, some people find it relaxing when they do light exercises, yoga, listening to a calming playlist or white noise, and even taking a hot shower before bed. When you do all these activities, you’ll gradually get yourself in the ‘mood’ which signals your brain that it’s time to wind down. So, if you don’t have a sleep routine, now is the time to make one!
Have you ever sat at the dinner table waiting to get hungry? Or to get in the mood to eat? Then why do we lie in bed waiting to get sleepy? Sleeping is just like having a meal — you’ve got to have a craving for it or get yourself in the mood to enjoy it to the fullest. Setting a sleep-inducing environment can mean dimming the lights down, cutting out all the blue lights, and even lowering the temperature of your room. All these have been shown to have a strong link with the quality of your sleep by many researchers. For instance, you’re more likely to fall asleep in a colder environment. In fact, sleep experts recommend keeping your room temperature between 16 to 20°C for a good night's sleep. But, of course, it depends on your individual preferences since each of us has a different tolerance for temperature. One study even found that your bedroom temperature affects the quality of your sleep more than external noise. So be sure to make your bedroom an absolute sleep haven!
Pro tip: Dim your lights, drop your room temperature to the lowest, and stay in it while you do your sleep routine. As you get sleepier, gradually increase the temperature to what you’re most comfortable with so that you don’t wake up in the middle of the night due to coldness.
3. Be active
One of the most important things you can do to improve your sleep is planning your day well. How you spend your day very much affects the quantity and quality of your sleep at night. Being active during the day, for example, can help you fall asleep faster at night. This doesn’t only mean exercising, it could also mean moving around, helping your mum in the kitchen — anything that doesn’t involve you laying down for too long. The main goal of this is to make your body tired which builds up sleep pressure and helps you to fall asleep faster at night. Also, it’s important to note that engaging in vigorous exercise 2-3 hours before bed may disrupt your sleep. This is because exercising promotes alertness and therefore can hinder your body’s ability to unwind before sleep.
Exposing yourself to sunlight during the day has also been shown by many studies to help you fall and stay asleep at night. Exposure to light, which occurs naturally during the day, helps to reinforce the melatonin levels and regulate your sleep-wake cycle. The idea here is to expose yourself to sunlight in the early morning and tone it down as the day progresses, helping your brain link light with day and darkness with night.
5. Caps on naps
Another thing that you can do during daytime is to plan your nap times strategically. Yes, we all LOVE naps. Yet, napping too long during the day will leave you groggy and disoriented. It’ll confuse your brain and mess with your natural body clock, also known as the circadian rhythm. To achieve the full potential of ‘power naps’, keep the nap time below 30 mins and take naps only in the midday — preferably between 1pm to 4 pm.
Pro tip: Do your exercises early in the day at a place which has good lighting, preferably sunlight. And if you’re too busy to exercise, take a walk around your block during the day in the sunlight. This will not only help you to get that sunlight exposure but will also help you be active and build up some sleep pressure for the night.
What are the chances that you’re reading this article in bed right now? I’ll be the first to admit, I used to be someone who spent a lot of time on my bed doing other things besides sleeping. From watching movies, going through social media, studying, and even snacking, my bed used to be my sweet spot. Though, sleep experts highly suggest using your bed only for the 3S (Sleep, Sickness and Sex). The effect of lying on your bed awake aside from the 3S’s is that it ultimately confuses your brain. As a result, your brain can’t differentiate between ‘rest time’ and ‘work time’ and end up associating the things that you do on your bed with bedtime and not with sleep. So never ever lie in your bed awake!
Pro tip: If you can’t fall asleep within 20 mins after going to bed, don’t lie in bed awake. Instead get up and do something which doesn’t involve a lot of brain activity, like reading a boring book. And only go to bed when you feel sleepy.
2. Hit snooze
Are you guilty of doing this? I’m sure you’ve been in this situation many times throughout your college life. You might think that you’re enjoying that extra 5 or 15 mins, but science has proven time and time again that snoozing is useless. This is because when you snooze the first time, your brain is already awake and functioning. As a result, it puts you in a very light sleep, which according to scientists is almost to no use. Since the ‘sleep’ between snoozes aren’t restorative in nature, you might have noticed snoozing actually makes you feel more tired and groggy. In addition to that, psychologists say that when you snooze your alarm first thing in the morning, your brain unconsciously perceives the first thing you did that day as a failure, which could affect other activities you do during that day. Therefore, if you snooze, you lose!
Pro tip: Set the alarm to the latest time that you want to wake up by. And when it goes off, wake up! Yes, it’ll take a lot of practice to wake up immediately and break the habit of snoozing, so start practising today. What has helped me to perk-up after the alarm goes off is to rub my hands together for 30 seconds, while still in that state of super sleepiness. This helps to get my blood flowing and wakes my body up.
Yes, an evening coffee sounds nice. An energy drink might even energise you while you do your assignments. But it could also be one of the reasons why you’re lying on the bed wide awake at night. Same goes to alcohol, although a surprising number of people are convinced that alcohol helps them to sleep. Sleep experts, on the other hand, believe that even though alcohol is a sedative which might make you sleepy, it’s an extremely potent stimulant which interferes with the quality of your sleep. And when it comes to sleep, quality ones beat quantity.
Caffeine and alcohol can disrupt your sleep, making you wake up multiple times during your sleep cycle, causing fragmented sleep. Besides the sleep interferences, alcohol is notorious for causing symptoms of sleep apnea and snoring. To prevent this from happening, it’s best to drink caffeine and alcohol strategically and stop consuming them at least 8 hours before your bedtime. So, if you have trouble sleeping, steer clear of caffeine and alcohol!
Pro tip: If you’re a coffee lover, consume coffee early in the day. And put all your difficult tasks which involve a lot of brain activity as your first tasks of the day. This way you’re getting the full benefits of caffeine while enjoying it to the fullest. Alternatively, you could also try out green tea which contains much lower caffeine compared to coffee, yet helps you to get that midday boost.
As you probably might have noticed, a lot of the things that help you get good quality sleep has to do with training your brain. Once mastered, a good night’s sleep becomes less of a distant dream and more of a strong foundation to your day. With adequate sleep hygiene habits, you’d be able to hack your sleep and take control over it once again. Although a couple of restless nights can be fixed with the tips recommended in this article, if you have been having serious sleep problems, you should seek help from a specialist for a more personalised prescription.
“When sleep is abundant, minds will flourish” - Dr. Matthew Walker
Ali Najah is a final year student at Taylor's University, currently pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in International Business and Marketing (Honours). He is a Board member of the Media & Design department at Taylor's Muslim Student Association (MSA). He is also a writer and photographer at Taylor's Etc Magazine.
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