Medical Program Assistant | Mental Health Services
If you’re hungry, you eat. If you’re thirsty, you drink. If you're tired, you sleep. Between classes, work, and extracurricular activities, it’s easy to push sleep to the back burner.
Without sleep you’ll be more stressed, less focused, and more prone to sickness. Sleep lets your brain rest and sort the information that bombards you daily. It allows you to rebuild cells, refill energy stores, and retain memory. Therefore, aim for seven and a half hours of sleep (see "Sleep Cycles" below).
Helpful sleep resources:
How much sleep should I get?
The basics: Aim for slightly more than seven and a half hours of sleep each night. Before you say you don't have time for that, remember that sleep is an extremely important function for, well, everything. Research suggests that students who get at least seven to eight hours of sleep have higher GPAs than those who get six or less. Sleep lets your brain rest and sort through all of the information that bombards you daily. It allows you to rebuild cells, refill energy stores, and retain memory.
The specifics: What many people don't know is that more sleep isn't necessarily better, because it might mean that you are waking up in the middle of the 90-minute sleep cycle. Therefore, get the most amount of complete sleep cycles as you can, rather than the most amount of arbitrary house. We recommend just over 7.5 hours (5 sleep cycles), 9 hours (6 sleep cycles) is even better, and 6 hours (4 cycles) if you are short on time. More information in the "Sleep Cycles" video and drop down menu below!
What are they: Humans naturally sleep in repeating cycles that each last roughly 90-minutes. In one of those sleep cycles, the brain transitions from light sleep, to deep sleep, to REM sleep stages.
- Light sleep occurs in two parts, the first being the transition from awake to sleeping, and the second drifting into deep sleep. The light sleep stage is when your brain activity slows and is an important process of transferring information from short to long-term memory.
- Research suggests that sleeping after studying or learning new material helps you retain information at a higher rate.
- Deep sleep follows and is crucially important for your physical health. It's when the body repairs and regrows tissues, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system. (WebMD).
- REM sleep is when dreaming occurs! This stage is important for brain recovery as well as processing emotions and memories.
What to do: Since sleep cycles occur in intervals, aim to complete a certain number of sleep cycles. For example, choose either 4, 5, or 6 full sleep cycles. That equates to roughly 6, 7.5, or 9 hours of sleep. The key here is to wake up after a cycle completes, or at the end of a REM stage, but be careful: There is no catch all number that works for everyone. You have to feel it out and give yourself a window of time in the morning to go back to sleep in case your last cycle has not yet completed.
How to do it:
- Carefully set your alarm with enough time to complete the largest number of complete sleep cycles that you can fit into your schedule. Sometimes less is more, so if you missed the mark for ~7.5 hours, for example, ~6 hours is the next best option. Not somewhere in the middle.
- Don't forget to leave extra time to account for falling asleep. You can add 15 minutes, for example, to your ~7.5 hour goal.
- You can use an app that monitors your sleep stages, like the Sleep Cycle alarm clock app.
- The app works by waking you up during a pre-set window of time once its audio and motion sensors sense that you've completed the final REM sleep stage.
- If you don't need an alarm , simply allow yourself to wake up naturally!
How to get a good nights sleep
- Exercise daily, but doing it right before bed may make you more alert.
- Keep your caffeine, nicotine and alcohol intake in check. Avoid consuming caffeine at least six hours before bed. This includes the tricky sources, like chocolate, tea, or even decaf coffee.
- Nicotine is also a stimulant, which will keep you awake, and cravings can wake you up in the middle of a night.
- Alcohol may initially induce some people into sleep, but it reduces the REM sleep stage which is crucial to sleeping well, dreaming, and mental health.
- Avoid waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle. If you aim to wake up after a 90-minute interval (4.5, 6, 7.5, 9, 10.5 hours), you will feel more well rested!
- Unplug. Put the screens away before bedtime.
- Establish a routine before bed that allows you to relax and wind down. Stretching and deep breathing are great segues to the sack — they improves blood flow and promotes relaxation.
- Avoid eating right before bed. Especially with spicy or high-fat, high-protein foods.
- Don't try to perform to sleep, just relax the body and mind. This may seem counter-intuitive, but letting go of your performance anxiety, or the pressure to sleep, has been found to help many students. Think of your bed as a place of relaxation, not a place of mandatory sleep. Relaxation is still rest and, chances are, this will help you sleep more than actively forcing yourself into sleep.
- Set the mood and maintain a comfortable sleeping environment. Preferably dark, quiet, and at a cool temperature.
- "48 Sleep Life Hacks" Sleep Advisor
- Understanding sleep cycles and how to use them: "Enhance your sleep cycles" Alaska Sleep Clinic
- Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock (smartphone app)
- Check out Columbia University's a!Sleep website for sleep resources (e.g., a sleep assessment, sleep diary, and e-cards)
- National Sleep Foundation
- "Who Needs Sleep?" [PDF]
- "Wakeup call for college students: New research finds you need to catch more Z's," Science Daily
- "Why Sleep Is Needed to Form Memories," Science Daily