Sunday 28 February 2021

Sleep rituals for school

Stacy shares her tips for getting a better night’s sleep as a student.
- Stacy

I never struggled with sleep in high school. Sports, academics and extracurricular activities kept me busy and by the time I came home, I could barely keep my eyes open. That all changed when I went away to college. 

In college I didn’t play sports and was strictly there to focus on academics. I had never struggled with coursework in high school, but the intensity, autonomy and pace of college classes made me fall behind quickly. I started looking toward the study habits modelled by successful peers around me.

Many students would hit the library late in the evening, staying there until early in the morning. Thinking that this was normal, I aligned my study schedules with classmates to make sure I could study with them. Coffee became as normal as drinking water and at times I felt like I was merely taking breaks to go buy more fuel for studying. 

Since I was also working part-time during college, my circadian rhythm went awry. I would study all night, get back from the library late, sleep for a few hours and then wake up early to go to work and then class, doing it all over again. Some nights I deemed it easier not to sleep at all since I had drank so much caffeine to study. It became a twisted cycle and although I was studying more, I didn’t see it reflected in my grades. 

When classes ended, I still felt the impending anxieties of future deadlines and exams when I laid my head down to sleep. It was like sleep was no longer a time for rest, but a time for guilt. 

I tried turning on music, TV or watching videos on my phone to tire me out, but the blue light would simply strain my eyes. I would sit up and count how many hours I had until my next shift or class. 

I quickly learned after consulting a sleep therapist that my stress around academics had manifested itself in the form of sleep deprivation and was taking a toll on my body and quality of life. My doctor showed me studies that proved adults need consistent sleep routines and told me to say goodbye to my library night owl friends. 

I had all the signs of poor sleep hygiene and she recommended a few bedtime rituals to help me wind down after studying. I’d like to share what worked for me with you. 

3-4 Hours Before Bed

Setting an artificial “end to the day” is important for workaholics who will likely take their coursework to bed or keep studying up until it’s time to sleep. You need to allow your body and mind time to rest before sleep as it’s difficult to switch from focus to sleep. That could mean changing your location, physically leaving your desk or the library, or scheduling a workout with a friend to help you close the book on your work.

1-2 Hours Before Bed

Practicing some form of mindfulness can be very helpful for handling stress and releasing the cortisol or stress hormone that lurks in your body. Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, recommends practicing mindfulness during the day, ideally for 20 minutes. “The idea is to create a reflex to more easily bring forth a sense of relaxation,” he says. That way, it’s easier to evoke the relaxation response at night when you can’t sleep.

60 Minutes Before Bed

Turn off your phone! You might have a million reasons to keep your phone on and next to you while you sleep, but even the lingering awareness that it’s there can hurt your chances of sleep. Screens from phones emit blue light that stimulates your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm), keeping your mind and body awake. Buy an electronic alarm clock to wake you up and keep your phone off and across the room while you sleep. 

I hope that these bedtime rituals can help you the way they helped me. If you are experiencing serious levels of stress you should consult a medical professional. 

Learn more about how you can look after your wellbeing on Student Space.

Hi there! I’m Stacy, an alumna from San Diego State University. I enjoy sharing my personal experiences with stress and offering holistic approaches to cultivating mental health. I’m currently working as a Content Marketing Specialist for Siege Media.

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