Updated: Dec 27, 2020
Whether you’re going to school in person or online, healthy sleeping habits are probably the last thing on your mind. If you’re a hardworking student, it can be difficult to get the sleep you need with the burdens of homework, sports, and extracurriculars. After years of having to be at school before 7 a.m. and working on homework until midnight, you’re probably more used to relying on Starbucks in the morning to get you through the day. Just because you’re doing remote learning and sleeping until almost noon doesn’t mean that you’re getting better sleep than the kids who have to wake up early to go to school, though. Building healthy sleeping habits takes much more than simply going to sleep and waking up on demand.
Why is Sleep Important?
Getting the right amount of sleep at the right times has a plethora of benefits. Some of these are obvious and have no doubt been repeated to you countless times. Sleep has been proven to strengthen your immune system, memory, energy, concentration, alertness and mood.
Although you’re probably tired of hearing these, it’s important to remember why they are told to you. A strong immune system is critical, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only can it cause chronic lung issues, a careless carrier can multiply the virus exponentially. A strong immune system also causes you to heal faster and maintain peak performance in any sport you’re in. Memory and concentration is essential to success in school; however, many of us aren’t getting the sleep we need because we’re staying up to do homework. Most importantly, improved alertness is critical, especially when many are beginning to learn how to drive. According to sciencedaily.com, there is a 6% increase in the number of fatal car crashes the week of Daylight Savings Time. Both adequate and consistent sleep play a role in your alertness. There are also some lesser-known benefits to healthy sleep, such as preventing weight gain.
Insufficient sleep raises the risk of the development of a significant amount of chronic illnesses, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a lower life span. These consequences, while they may not seem as important now, are crucial. While constantly stressing about the possibility of developing problems such as these isn’t healthy, if there are a few things that you can change in your daily routine to prevent these diseases, why hesitate? Reducing these risks isn’t out of your control, and while it shouldn’t be obsessive, even little practice can sometimes go a long way in improving the quality of your life.
So What Can You Do?
1. Get the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep.
Doctors know what they’re talking about when they create these guidelines. When you sleep, your brain is either in Rapid Eye Movement( REM)sleep or non-REM sleep. When you first fall asleep, you go into non-REM sleep, which is the resting and light sleep phase. When transitioning to deep sleep, your heart rate, breathing rate and body temperature begin to fall. Eventually, you will begin to dream, although you will only spend a short amount of time doing this. This is when your brain and certain body activity is the same as when you are awake. Ideally, you will follow this pattern four or five times in a night, with deep sleep being the most important and longest part of the pattern. These sleep patterns, or cycles, typically last about 90-120 minutes. In order to feel well rested and receive the benefits of healthy sleep, you need to go through the full cycle. Choose a certain time to stop doing homework, and stick to it. Work your schedule around it. Drop an activity. It seems drastic, but if you reduce your workload from three activities to two, with more sleep you’ll do much better on the two you choose to concentrate on.
2. Put screens away (or turn on night mode) and turn off (or dim) lights 30 minutes before bed.
If you stay up doing homework every night, doing this isn’t always possible. However, even just reducing the amount of light your body is processing during the half-hour before you go to sleep can make a difference. The suprachiasmatic nucleus is a part of your hypothalamus, the part of your brain that controls your daily functions. The suprachiasmatic nucleus is responsible for your circadian rhythms, or your internal clock. Light is perceived by this region in your brain to be a sign to reduce or stop producing melatonin, a chemical that allows you to fall asleep. This is because your body’s circadian rhythm follows the sun’s schedule, naturally waking up with light (dawn) and falling asleep with the lack of it (dusk). A healthy body will wake up by itself around 7 to 9 in the morning, and fall asleep by itself around 8 to 10 at night, because a healthy body responds to the natural light cues outside. Unnatural lighting at times when your body is supposed to be getting ready for bed interrupts these biological processes. This is also why sleeping at the right times is important. Consistently sleeping earlier and waking up earlier fits into your body’s biological clock. “Catching up” on your sleep during the weekends doesn’t actually catch you up. Instead it disrupts your sleep schedule more, causing your body more confusion and further damage. For those who are learning virtually this year, staying up and then sleeping in can have many of the same consequences.
3. Make sure your phone is on Do Not Disturb at night.
Our bodies are finely attuned to our phone and the many notifications we receive throughout the day. The instant gratification cycle of checking these notifications produces the same “reward” chemical, dopamine, as other addicting activities, like drug use. The result is that notifications are almost impossible to ignore, and if you can, curiosity over what the notification could be--and whether or not it’s important-- is a major disruption while falling asleep.
4. There are certain foods you can eat, or avoid, to help you sleep.
Alcohol, foods high in fat, and foods or drinks that have caffeine will prevent you from getting a good night's sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant, and resists your natural sleep drive. Certain foods that can help you sleep are almonds, honey, herbal tea, salmon, cherries, grains, turkey, warm milk, kale, and walnuts. This is because these foods contain large amounts of some of the following chemicals that promote healthy sleep: melatonin, tryptophan, calcium, apigenin, serotonin, magnesium, and potassium. Melatonin has the biggest role in your sleep schedule. It is a hormone released by the pineal gland which prepares your body for sleep. You can take melatonin supplements before bed to help you fall asleep more easily, but it is not intended to be a long-term solution.
5. Don’t nap.
As the day goes on, your body’s sleep drive causes you to feel more and more tired and crave sleep more and more. Think of your body as a battery, when you wake up in the morning with a full charge, you lose that charge throughout the day. Eventually your battery dies. Your body does the same thing when it gets to a certain point, you fall asleep no matter where you are or what you’re doing. A nap that is longer than about half an hour decreases your body’s desire to sleep, causing you to fall asleep later or have trouble sleeping. Consequently, when you wake up the next morning, your battery has less of a charge to work with.
6. Do yoga or meditation.
This will help clear your mind before you go to sleep. Stress and worry are one of the major causes of insomnia. As soon as your head hits the pillow, all of a sudden you can’t stop thinking. If you’re trying to fall asleep, you’re alone with your thoughts and your brain feels as if it’s in overdrive, yoga is the perfect practice to eliminate these habits. Yoga and meditation are linked to reduced stress, with the goal of mental clarity. This clarity is vital to healthy sleep. Even just 20 seconds of each of a few simple poses (child’s pose, camel pose, butterfly fold, knee-to-chest, and corpse pose, for example) can make sure you fall asleep as soon as you’re done.
7. You could also read, listen to music, draw, or color.
Along with yoga or meditation before bed, doing stress-relieving activities that you like can help you get more high-quality sleep.
8 Things to Do Before Bed to Get Better Sleep and Wake-Up More Energized Each Morning. (2019, October 21). Retrieved November 01, 2020, from https://due.com/blog/8-things-to-do-before-bed-to-get-better-sleep-and-wake-up-more-energized-each-morning/
The Benefits of Getting a Full Night's Sleep. (n.d.). Retrieved November 01, 2020, from https://www.sclhealth.org/blog/2018/09/the-benefits-of-getting-a-full-night-sleep/