We’ve posted a lot of blogs on self-care: we’ve tackled mindfulness, diet, aromatherapy, stress reduction, and more, but one thing we haven’t discussed is sleep. Ah, sleep – that elusive thing that many of us don’t get nearly enough of, especially as graduate students. Believe me, as a parent, I can understand that sometimes, we just don’t get enough sleep….for years and years. If you’re a parent while working full-time and going to school, the idea of getting enough sleep probably seems laughable. Most graduate students, regardless of whether they have kids or work full-time, live on caffeine and wear their sleeplessness as a badge of honor. While the occasional all-nighter might be necessary, getting enough sleep is important for overall physical and mental health, and can even affect cognitive and academic performance. Sleep deprivation can affect reaction time, learning, memory, and general performance. It negatively impacts concentration and focus.

Here are some tips to help you get a better night’s sleep.

  1. Stick to a schedule! Try to go to bed AND wake up around the same time every day. This helps set your internal clock.
  2. Chill out. Find a relaxing routine that works for you every night before bed. It could be a nice warm bath, avoiding social media or the news after 5pm, having a light snack or some warm milk, or curling up with a favorite book. This signals to your body that it’s time to start relaxing and get ready for sleep.
  3. Avoid naps. As tempting as a nap might be, especially if you suffer from insomnia, try to avoid naps, since these will only make it harder to fall asleep later at night. If you HAVE to nap, try to keep it under 30 minutes, and nap early in the afternoon, not near bedtime.
  4. Avoid artificial light. If you can, get off your computer, laptop, smart phone, and television for an hour before bed. The light from the screens triggers the brain to stay up. By the same token, if you can, don’t keep your phone in bed with you or next to you. If you use it as an alarm clock, dim the screen after a certain time of night, and place it face down on your bedside table. Better yet, consider getting an alarm clock just so you can put some distance between you and your phone.
  5. Minimize your caffeine usage, especially in the afternoon. I know! I know! Blasphemy, right? All joking aside, too much caffeine, or even a little if you’re super sensitive to it, can interfere with sleep patterns and make it harder to fall asleep at night.
  6. Practice good sleep hygiene. Use your bed only for sleep and sex – don’t do work in bed, don’t hang out with friends on your bed, try not to do work in your bedroom at all if you don’t have to. If you’re lying in bed for more than an hour, wide awake, get out of bed and go somewhere else and do something relaxing, like reading. Go back to bed when you’re tired and ready to go to sleep.
  7. Quit smoking. Nicotine is a stimulant, and smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to report feeling tired and experience sleep issues.
  8. Consider a white noise machine for sleep. Especially if you live in a noisy apartment complex, a white noise machine can block out distracting noises. You don’t want a perfectly quiet room, either, because any noise becomes a disruption. Find a happy medium that works for you.
  9. Don’t overeat before bed. Some people like to have a nighttime snack, which is fine – just don’t overeat or eat anything too heavy. Protein is harder for the body to digest, so pick something light for your bedtime snack.
  10. Regular exercise can help with getting better sleep – as long as you don’t exercise too close to bedtime. Make sure you’re finished exercising at least an hour or two before bedtime, otherwise it might actually interfere with sleep.

What are your tried-and-true things that help with sleep?

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