According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three adults in the United States don’t get enough sleep.
“The CDC calls it an epidemic because it’s been linked to things that are of serious concern,” said Isabel Alfonsin-Vittoria, clinician and director of the Office of Employee Assistance.
Sleep deprivation can cause accidents, impaired cognitive ability, risk of anxiety and depression. Long term effects include high blood pressure, heart disease and heart attack or failure.
The magic number for sleep is between seven and nine hours in a 24 hour period. Vittoria says this has to be continuous sleep.
“Sleep duration is not as important as sleep quality, and the definition of quality is continuous sleeping,” she says.
In honor of the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Awareness Week, March 10-16, here are eight tips for a healthy sleep life.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed.
The half life of caffeine is between four and six hours. So, be mindful of that afternoon coffee because it’s likely to affect your ability to fall asleep. Also a stimulant, nicotine before bed will keep you up. Alcohol, while technically a depressant, still has to be metabolized which arouses the body possibly keeping you awake. “Abstain from any substance that could jump start your biological process in the reverse direction,” Vittoria adds.
- Turn the bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment.
“Where you sleep is your sanctuary for rest and relaxation. Therefore, set up your sleep environment with low lighting, minimal noise or distractions and choose bedding that is comfortable and conducive to sleeping,” Vittoria says. The Healthy Living Program, a branch of Student Health Services promoting holistic health education and disease prevention, offers a free sleep hygiene one-on-one consultation. To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Have a pre-sleep routine.
It helps to have practices that relax the mind to prepare for sleep. “It can be a warm bath, meditating, listening to white noise or soft relaxing music or writing in your journal. This practice can gently prepare the brain for calm before sleep,” says Vittoria. Some other pre-sleep activities that can be helpful are reading a relaxing book, drinking decaffeinated tea and aromatherapy. The Healthy Living Program offers free aromatherapy bottles, including a sleep blend.
- Go to sleep when you’re truly tired.
When we stay up even when we’re tired, we trick our brains into thinking it needs to be awake. This makes it more difficult to go to sleep later. That Netflix series you’re watching can wait.
- Keep internal clock set with consistent sleep schedule.
If at all possible, be consistent with the time you go to sleep and rise every day. The body can internalize that rhythm and set that as your default, automatically.
- Nap early or not at all.
Naps more than 20 minutes long and late in the day can make it more difficult for you to fall asleep at bedtime.
- Exercise early.
Similarly to being mindful of caffeine intake in the late hours, it’s important to exercise earlier in the day. Physical activity is excellent for your general health but engaging in exercise or other physically demanding tasks late in the evening will make winding down more problematic.
- If you don’t get the relief you need, contact your primary health care provider, the Healthy Living Program, Office of Employment or a sleep specialist.
These tips should help with your sleep health. However, there are times when sleep challenges are the result of other conditions or medical problems. Students can visit the center for Healthy Living at the Student Health Center; faculty, staff and employees can get in touch with the Office of Employment.
The Healthy Living Program also offers a sleep guide focused on the “five senses for sleep.” The guide gives easy to remember tips on how to improve sleep using your senses —touch reminds you of the importance of being comfortable; taste covers not consuming caffeine or alcohol before bed as well as not eating more difficult-to-digest meals before bed; sight refers to the amount of light in your room while sleeping; hearing focuses on eliminating noises that could wake you up and playing relaxing sounds to help you sleep; and, finally, smell covers certain smells like lavender that have been proven to relax the brain and help you sleep, while other displeasing smells can keep you up.