Sleep is Smart! 12 Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep
Many of us are guilty of pulling an “all-nighter” the night before a big exam. For some of us, spending hours cramming in as much information as possible makes us feel like we are the superstars of studying. For others, our nerves may be too fired up to let us fall asleep, so we snuggle up with our flashcards and get ready for a restless night. Whatever the case may be, sacrificing valuable sleep for the sake of studying may actually work against you.
You might think of sleeping as a passive activity—the part of the day when you get to rest. However, sleeping is actually a very active process for your body. According to Johns Hopkins, getting enough sleep is essential for “brain plasticity,” the brain’s ability to adapt to input. Without sleep, your brain cannot process the information you’ve learned, and worse, you are unlikely to remember any of it on test day—meaning all the time you spend studying will have been for nothing.
A healthy amount of sleep—8 to 10 hours per night for teenagers, according to the National Sleep Foundation—is vital, especially the night before a big test. It is linked to sharper thinking, effective learning, more focused attention, and better memory recall. Sleep also plays a major role in emotional and physical health, contributing to the healthy function of virtually every system of the body.
Learning a new skill, like speaking Spanish or playing the saxophone, doesn’t happen overnight, and sleep is no exception—no pun intended! Establishing and maintaining a good sleep routine takes a bit of commitment, but the pay-off is totally worth it. Here are 12 tips for a better night’s sleep:
Afternoon: Prepare your Body
1. Say No to Stimulants
While caffeine, often found in soda, tea, coffee, and chocolate, can boost cognitive function during the day, consuming it late in the day can seriously mess with your sleep. The Sleep Foundation recommends not consuming caffeine within six hours before bedtime.
2. Snack Smart
Studies show that eating too much too close to bedtime can cause acid reflux or indigestion, which can lead to compromised sleep. Try to avoid snacking two to three hours before sleeping, and avoid eating spicy and fatty foods late in the day.
3. Exercise Early
Most experts agree that regular exercise is essential for a healthy body and mind. According to the Sleep Foundation, aerobic or resistance exercise in the morning may help you fall asleep faster at night. It was also found that high intensity exercise in the afternoon can promote restful sleep by lowering levels of orexin, a neurotransmitter that promotes wakefulness. However, experts caution to avoid exercising within 90 minutes of bedtime, as this may affect drowsiness and sleep quality.
4. Limit Naps
Sleeping during the day compromises your sleep at night. If you have to nap, set an alarm for no more than 30 minutes.
Evening: Prepare your Mind
5. Channel Your Inner Caveman
Before modern-day technology, the rising and setting of the sun governed the sleep-wake cycles of our primitive ancestors. Thanks to them, we are biologically programmed to produce more melatonin at the end of the day, as it gets darker, which helps us fall asleep. Light, on the other hand, suppresses the production of melatonin. Even worse? Cell phones, computer screens, and televisions emit blue light, which is hard on your eyes and can have a dire affect on sleep. To promote a healthy sleep-wake cycle, turn off harsh overhead lights in favor of soft-light lamps, and use blue light blocking glasses when using digital devices. If you can, turn your devices on “Night Shift” mode for a warmer digital display.
6. Prep Your Senses
Get ready for a dreamy night’s sleep by prepping your senses for relaxation. Taking a warm bath (keep the lights off!), diffusing lavender essential oil, and drinking herbal tea all promote calmness and can prepare you for restful sleep.
7. Clear Your Head
It is nearly impossible to get a good night’s sleep when your thoughts are racing. Clear your head before heading to bed by spending a few minutes journaling, or talking about what’s on your mind with a friend or family member.
8. Keep it Consistent
Having a consistent sleep-wake schedule is essential for quality sleep. Commit to winding down an hour before bed each night, and going to sleep at the same time. Set your alarm for the same time each morning, and don’t sleep in too late on weekends—a consistent sleep schedule and quality rest will eliminate the need to “catch up” on sleep, anyway!
Bedtime: Prepare to Snooze
9. Go to Your Happy Place
Your bedroom should be an oasis—a place you associate with calmness and rest, not stress and over-thinking. Avoid studying and doing homework in bed, and keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet, as this has been shown to improve the quality of sleep. Try black-out curtains or a sleep mask, as light can interfere with the production of melatonin and interrupt your sleep. If you sleep better with a little white noise, turn on a fan or a sound machine.
10. Do Not Disturb
As mentioned, blue light emitted from your cell phone can mess with your sleep cycle. Avoid the temptation to look at your cell phone by putting it in “Do Not Disturb” mode 30 minutes before bedtime. When you’re ready for bed, put your phone on “Airplane Mode”. Not only will your device stay quiet and dark throughout the night, this setting will stop the transmission of EMFs (electromagnetic fields), which can cause serious health effects and sleep loss.
11. Set the Table
Before you crawl into bed, lay out your clothes for the next morning. Put a fresh glass of water on your nightstand. Make sure your alarm is set and your phone is charging. Preparing these things before you go to bed will make for a less stressful wake-up the next morning.
12. REMember This
If you must stay up late or wake up extra-early, try to get at least six hours of consecutive sleep. This will give you at least some time in the REM sleep cycle, which is essential for restful sleep and memory retention.