Because it's your health: Getting a Good Night's Sleep

Tip of the Week:

Getting a Good Night's Sleep

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? You're in the middle of writing your third paper this week and it looks like it's going to be an all-nighter. You wake up every morning and have to drag yourself out of bed to get to class on time. When you finally have a chance to go to bed early, you lie awake for hours despite feeling physically and mentally exhausted.

If these situations apply to you, you're probably not getting a good night's sleep. The right amount of sleep varies from person to person, although the traditional "eight hours a night" is still a good starting point. You may need less sleep when you are less active (e.g., over the summer) and more sleep during stressful times, like midterms and finals. Easier said than done, right? Well, here's how to do it!

First, examine your routine for "insomnia triggers." These fall into four categories:

1) Diet, including caffeine, alcohol and medications.

2) Lifestyle (i.e. ­irregular bedtimes, naps).

3) Environment­ (i.e. excessive noise, light).

4) Psychological factors­.

Take steps to identify and avoid these triggers. If this is impossible, consider the following strategies:

Develop a bedtime routine. Stop doing anything stimulating (including studying!) about 30 minutes before bedtime. Develop a wind-down ritual that includes something relaxing, like reading for pleasure, listening to soft music and performing gentle stretches­, followed by set pre-bed activities (e.g., washing up, brushing your teeth). Try to go to bed at about the same time every night.

Stop intrusive thoughts. Keep a pad and pencil by your bed. If something is on your mind, jot it down, then let the thought go. Alternatively, try this visualization technique: pretend that your mind is a chalkboard. Every time a worrisome thought enters your head, visualize it written on the chalkboard and then immediately erase it. Keep erasing these thoughts as they pop up (this is a healthy form of procrastination!).

Reduce physical stress. If you are physically unable to relax, try progressive muscle relaxation. Starting with your upper body, flex your shoulders and hold, making the muscles as tight as you can for 10 seconds. Release the muscles while noticing the difference between the tense and relaxed positions and feeling the associated warmth; relax and breathe for 15-20 seconds. Continue this process with your other muscles, working from your shoulders, neck, and arms down to your midsection, buttocks and legs.

Finally, get out of bed! When you can't fall asleep, the best thing you can do is get out of bed. Most people fall asleep within 15 minutes, so if you're still not asleep after 30 minutes, get up and go elsewhere to engage in a quiet activity such as ­reading, writing notes, etc. When you start to feel sleepy, then return to bed for a rejuvenating rest.