No matter what activities fill your day, being well-rested is crucial for high performance. In fact, sleep is important to more than just feeling well-rested; sleep-deprivation leads to physical, emotional, and mental problems. Though the question of why we sleep remains unresolved in the scientific community, what has become unequivocally clear is that it is necessary.
The body quickly begins to suffer with too little or too much sleep. Mentally, the brain loses its ability to focus on any given task, which can cause issues, especially when you are a student. Paying attention becomes difficult, and even if one prevails in focusing, the memory consolidation process, which is a required step in retaining information, is less effective. Sleep deprivation also causes bad moods and stress, which in the long-term can lead to mood disorders. The rest of the body suffers as well; long-term sleep deprivation is linked to an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and more—all of which may eventually contribute to a shortened lifespan.
1. Schedule your exercise. If you exercise in the evening, try switching to a morning workout instead. On the other hand, if you don’t exercise regularly consider exercising a few times a week. While it’s inconclusive if exercising in the evening impedes sleep, it has been proven that exercising helps those who didn’t exercise previously fall asleep and stay asleep.
2. Watch what you drink. Although caffeine is definitely a tempting cure to the sleepiness experienced after a night of insomnia, it will lead to continual insomnia when you find yourself unable to fall asleep once again the following night. Try to avoid drinking caffeine—be it in coffee or any other drink—in the afternoon.
Another drink to be wary of is alcohol. Though alcohol is a sedative and may help you fall asleep, its effects wear off after a few hours and ends up disrupting sleep. Those who drink before bed don’t dream as easily and often end up waking up in the middle of the night!
3. Consider the atmosphere of your bedroom. You may just be unable to sleep simply because the temperature of your room is not ideal. Your body temperature drops as you sleep, and even your feet getting cold could trigger you waking up.
Your insomnia could also be psychological. Program your mind to associate your bed with sleep by only sleeping in it—avoid doing work in bed throughout the day. If you end up unable to sleep, consider moving to a different room instead, to avoid ingraining the association of your bed with wakefulness.
4. Calm your senses. Aroma therapy with lavender scents has been shown to aid sleep in women; try smelling lavender before bed. As for sound, there are a variety of sounds that claim to help with sleep. Keep in mind that the same tones may not work for everyone, so it may take a while to figure out what works best for you.
5. Stick to a schedule. Go to bed every night at the same time; our bodies have a circadian rhythm and naturally adjust to schedule patterns. Avoid napping in the middle of the day, because that will simply offset your sleeping pattern and keep you from getting a good night’s sleep—thus propagating the very issue you were trying to solve by napping.
6. Leave your worries behind. Anyone who has had trouble falling asleep knows that remembering the thousand and one things that need to be taken care of don’t help. Try keeping a journal by your bed to write down the thoughts that are worrying you—and then abandon them. Make sure to clear your mind, and avoid making matters worse by agonizing over the fact that you can’t sleep.
Be sure to keep these tips in mind not just at night, but throughout the daytime as well. Many of our issues at nighttime come from the daily lifestyles we lead, and getting a better night’s sleep could be an easy fix away.
Alexandra Brumberg is currently a student at Tufts University studying chemistry and mathematics, two of her strongest passions. Among her other interests are tap dancing, which she has been doing since the age of three, and downhill skiing. She is a choreographer for the Tufts Tap Ensemble and races with the Tufts University ski team. She is thrilled to be able to combine her loves for science and writing as part of the Scientista blogging team!