Ever wake up feeling tired after getting over eight hours of sleep? You’re not alone. For an activity that we have been doing since we were born, sleeping—at least, sleeping effectively—is not always easy. There are a variety of factors and processes that can make it difficult for students to get a good night’s rest. Fortunately, there are numerous steps individuals can take and changes they can make to ensure that they will be more successful falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up feeling well-rested.
Avoid laptops and smartphones before bedtime
Your penchant for watching lecture recordings and looking at memes on Instagram before bedtime is most definitely impeding your ability to get a good night’s sleep. According to findings by the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the blue and white light emitted by digital screens can disrupt the body’s release of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that helps people sleep by maintaining their circadian rhythm—which is essentially a 24-hour biological clock programmed in the human body that dictates when one feels tired or awake.
Within an hour or so before bedtime, try doing something that doesn’t involve technology, such as studying with your textbook, flipping through a magazine, or reading the school newspaper.
Limit exposure to sound
Residents of crowded cities like Montreal are constantly exposed to a barrage of sounds and noises. While the screeching of cars and the enthusiastic shouting of bar-goers on St-Laurent might seem like minor annoyances initially, they could be seriously affecting students’ ability to sleep properly at night. Noise does not need to fully awaken a person in order to disturb their sleep cycle. According to the World Health Organization’s Night Noise Guidelines, even a sound as low as 30 to 40 decibels—such as quiet whispering—has the potential to cause sleep disturbance.
Make sure that all of your windows and doors are closed to limit the amount of external noises that can seep into your bedroom. For people living in particularly loud neighbourhoods, listening to white noise—steady, unvarying, unobtrusive sound—during sleep might be helpful. A study published in Sleep Medicine revealed that white noise increased sound arousal thresholds in sleeping individuals exposed to recorded sounds. In other words, white noise helps mask the effect of other, more disruptive noises. Check out Spotify’s white noise playlist or one of the many free apps available online.
Hands off the snooze button
Although it is a pleasurably cathartic experience to hit the snooze button repeatedly in the morning, (especially while dreading the walk to class through a labyrinth of construction), this is a practice that prevents people from feeling fully awake in the morning. By pressing the snooze button and drifting off into mini-sleep, the brain’s sleep cycle starts all over again.
A typical sleep cycle lasts between 90 to 120 minutes, making it impossible for anyone to complete a cycle in a standard snooze period. Therefore, the body is unable to reach a meaningfully relaxing stage of sleep. Even worse, the circadian rhythm ends up being confused in the process. The result is that after the snooze, people typically wake up feeling even groggier.
Instead, try using a smart alarm clock. There are various smartphone apps in this category, like Azumio’s Sleep Time, that generally work by tracking the user’s sleep cycle with the phone’s accelerometer. The alarm goes off within a period of a few minutes before the set time, specifically when the user is not in a phase of deep sleep, essentially waking the person up when their body is naturally ready.
Beds are for sleeping
The bed is a very comfortable piece of furniture—it is tempting to plop into it to enjoy a plethora of non-sleeping activities, such as watching Netflix, reading, or texting. Simple Pavlovian conditioning explains why this habit is not conducive to falling asleep at night. In order to fall asleep faster after getting into bed, people need to associate their bed, a neutral stimulus, with sleep, a biological stimulus. Reinforcing this connection elicits a response of sleepiness when somebody climbs into bed. By mentally linking the bed with another activity, such as watching shows or texting, the person weakens this conditioning.
The simple tip to overcome this: Don’t watch Netflix in bed.