We all sleep, but many of us do not obtain the quality or quantity of sleep that is needed to maintain optimal functioning. This is especially true for college students, many of whom are overworked, have dense course loads, are employed part-time, and devote their time to social functions. It is not uncommon for students to believe that running on inadequate sleep is a sign of hard work, or to conclude that “this is what college life is supposed to be like.” Some students even develop a sense of pride about their ability to juggle multiple obligations while only obtaining a few hours of sleep each night, but this tendency does not come without risks. It turns out that a lack of sleep can be caused by (and contribute to) a variety of mental health concerns.
Difficulties with sleep are unique to human beings because we are the only species on earth that deliberately deprive ourselves of sleep in order to work, play, or socialize. As the world at large shifts toward a 24-hour economy that will further interfere with the acquisition of essential rest, a disconnect is emerging between what our minds want (i.e. more time) and what our bodies need (i.e. more rest). Americans living a century ago obtained roughly two more hours of sleep each evening than we do today. This is problematic because research indicates that sleep deprivation is associated with impairments in cognitive, emotional, and physiological functioning. Thankfully, there are dozens of practical ways to improve the quality and quantity of sleep that you obtain each night, and the Counseling Center is committed to helping you achieve this important health goal.
Why make these changes?
Studies suggest that quality sleep is linked to the following health benefits:
1. Increases new learning by helping the brain encode memories.
2. Improves cognitive functioning and academic achievement.
3. Increases one’s capacity for attention and impulse control.
4. Helps to stave off cognitive decline in later life.
5. Improves mood and emotional functioning.
6. Supports the body’s repair of heart and blood vessels.
7. Reduces the risk of heart disease, kidney failure, diabetes, and stroke.
8. Helps regulate the hormones that control impulses like hunger (ghrelin) or that tell your body you are full (leptin).
9. Assists your immune system in fighting off infections.
A common question we are asked is, “How do you make constructive changes and modify your sleep experience for the better?”
Here are a few sleep suggestions to consider:
1. Establish a consistent sleep and wake up time; aim for 7-9 hours a night
2. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine close to bedtime.
3. Limit eating late at night.
4. Exercise during the day and get exposure to natural light.
5. Take a warm shower before bed.
6. Use relaxation techniques like meditation or deep breathing.
7. Optimize your sleep environment.
8. Dim the lights and turn off all screens before bed.
9. Keep your room cool (about 65°f).
10. If you can’t fall asleep within 20-30 minutes, get up and engage in a non-stimulating activity such as light reading. Return to bed when you feel sleepy and repeat as necessary.
Remember, the way you feel when you are awake depends (in part) upon what happens when you are sleeping. Sleep is not an optional lifestyle luxury; it’s a biological necessity!
Check out this podcast: Toolkit for Sleep
Check out these guided meditations for rest and sleep:
Guided Body Scan Meditation for Sleep & Relaxation
Rest Meditation by Tricia Hersey of Nap Ministry