All About Sleep
It turns out that what you do during the day can have an impact on how easy (or difficult!) it is for you to fall asleep and prevent you from getting a good night’s rest. Factors that help support healthy sleep habits include:
Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before bed.
- Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants, which can keep you tossing and turning at night.
- Alcohol may help you doze off, but can prevent you from entering deeper, more restorative sleep stages.
Being physically active, but not too close to bedtime.
- Regular physical activity can improve your sleep. Consider visiting or the Columbia Health Physical Activity page for more information on getting your body moving.
- Exercising more than 2-3 hours before bedtime is recommended as strenuous activities too close to bedtime can also make sleeping difficult. There may be residual impacts — such as increased body temperature and heart rate or more endorphins in your system — that aren’t conducive to sleep.
Optimizing your bedroom environment.
- If you’re able, set your thermostat so your bedroom is cool, but not cold. You may also use a fan or extra blankets to create a comfortable bedroom temperature.
- Avoid exposure to bright lights right before going to bed (such as television, computer, and cell phone screens). The bright light emitted by these devices tells your body that it’s time to wake up!
- If lively hallway activity, street noise, or a loud roommate are keeping you up, consider creating additional insulation from sound. You could try hanging a blanket on the wall or at the base of a door as this may help dampen the sound. You might also benefit from using ear plugs, a white noise machine, or a simple fan to drown out extraneous sound.
Keeping a regular sleep schedule.
- While this may be tough, sticking to a routine — even on the weekend — will help you function at your best and help you fall asleep faster.
- If you can’t stick to a regular sleep time every day, try to stay within a two-hour window of your normal bedtime and wake up around the time you usually do.
- Keeping your sleep schedule consistent not only maximizes the benefits of sleep, but also reduces disruptions to your body’s natural rhythms.
There are even more resources to help you fall asleep faster:
Quiet your surroundings!
- Consider using earplugs, a white noise machine, or fan to help mask outside noise. You can get a sleep kit complete with ear plugs at Alice! Health Promotion.
- Creating additional insulation from sound, such as hanging a blanket on the wall or at the base of a door, may also help!
Have a chat with anyone sharing a sleep space with you.
- If your sleep partner snores, hogs the covers, kicks in their sleep, wakes up at an earlier time, or has different sleep preferences, this may impact your quality of sleep.
- Try talking to them about what’s keeping you awake and how you can work together to alleviate the problem. This could include seeking medical advice for snoring or buying earplugs, using two separate comforters, creating pillow barriers or using silent vibrating alarm clocks!
- If you let your furry friends share your bed, they may unintentionally cause disruptions to your sleep, whether by making the space warmer or by moving around. If this is the case, it might be good to try a couple of nights without them to see if your sleep improves.
- Roommate keeping you awake? Consider having a conversation with them about how you can compromise and accommodate each other’s sleep habits.
Minimize exposure to light at night.
- Use heavy curtains or blinds to help block out outside light.
- Is your alarm clock especially bright? Does your laptop light display prominently? Try to cover these lights up at night, or consider the use of an eye mask.
- When purchasing an eye mask, look for one that has an adjustable head-strap, is made from thick, breathable materials, is dark in color, and has a convex shaped eye area that won’t restrict eye movement. You can also pick one up at Alice! Health Promotion.
To learn more about how to fall and stay asleep alone or with a partner, check out these additional resources:
Use your bed for sleeping, not studying.
- Think of your bed as your sanctuary, free of work and stress — it’s no fun to wake up drooling on your textbook! Establish your bed as a comfortable, relaxing place and find other spaces to study.
- Use pillows or supportive mattress covers to enhance your nightly rest. Although replacing your mattress may not be feasible, adding a pillow topper or new pillows may help provide the comfort and support you need.
- Don’t underestimate the potential value of clean sheets: even if you can’t see the dust mites and bacteria that may be lurking, these critters may keep you up — especially if you have allergies or a cold.
Create an ambiance for sleep and turn off those electronics!
- Set low lights and create a sleeping environment that’s quiet, cool, and comfortable.
- If you can, avoid exposing yourself to bright lights right before going to bed, such as television, computer, and cell phone screens. The bright light emitted by these devices tells your body that it’s time to wake up!
Do you have racing thoughts that just won’t quit? Write it all out before going to bed.
- If you find that your thoughts, worries, or to-do lists keep you up, consider writing it all out before turning in for the night. This may help you feel more organized and perhaps a bit more in control.
- You could also try keeping a notebook next to your bed if something pops into your mind as you’re trying to fall asleep.
Try coping with stress through meditation or deep breathing.
- Meditating may help direct your thoughts towards sleep and relaxation.
- When meditating, the first step is to clear your mind — try sitting in a quiet, comfortable place and become aware of your breath as it enters and leaves your lungs then nostrils. Close your eyes. Inhale while counting to three and then exhale while counting to three. Focus on feeling your abdomen rise and fall with each breath.
- While calming your mind may seem like an impossible task, with practice, it becomes easier.
Reach for the sky and get better shut eye.
- Stretching can help relax your muscles, a first step to relaxing your mind. You can use just about any stretching technique you know or try this quick neck stretch:
- Reach your left arm over your head until your fingers are just touching the top of your right ear.
- Gently pull your head towards your left shoulder, feeling a subtle stretch through the right side of your neck. Hold for a few seconds and feel the muscle lengthen.
- Then do the same on the other side.
- Stretching should never cause pain — if you do it gently and in the right spots, this can be a really powerful technique.
There are some additional resources to help you cope with stress and improve your sleep:
Though getting a bit of shut eye midday can be helpful, if not carefully implemented, napping can negatively impact your sleep habits.
- Daytime napping may disrupt your nighttime sleep.
- Napping cannot make up for inadequate or poor-quality nighttime sleep.
- Napping too long can make you groggy and even more tired.
- If you have trouble sleeping at night or have a sleep disorder, daytime naps can worsen the issue.
If you do need a nap, try limiting it to 20-30 minutes.
- Set your alarm to wake you up.
- Wear ear plugs and an eye mask to block out light and noise.
- Pick a nap spot that’s separate from where you study (e.g. the library) to make sure your body doesn’t associate it with the library and later interrupt your studying.
Taking a short nap can improve alertness and performance without disrupting your nighttime sleep or making you feel groggy.
They can also:
- Improve concentration and memory
- Improve critical thinking and academic performance
- Reduce stress and improve mood
These are also all benefits of getting a quality night of sleep! To nap or not to nap? The take home message — a good night’s sleep is more beneficial than napping. However, if you must nap, try to keep it to no more than 30 minutes.
Check out these resources to learn more about napping recommendations and benefits:
- Alice! Health Promotion
- Counseling and Psychological Services
- Medical Services