How to develop and maintain good sleep habits

By Molly Cochran

A small change of the clock can impact your quality of sleep, says sleep expert Amy Wolfson, Ph.D., professor of psychology.

“Keep in mind that it may take up to a week to adjust to a seemingly, small, one-hour shift in the sleep cycle with the fall daylight saving time clock change,” says Wolfson.

One factor that can impact a person’s quality of sleep is the duration. Sleep deprivation has been linked to poor scholarly performance and health, especially in adolescents and college-aged students.

“An overwhelming number of our students will restrict their sleep during the week and try to catch up on sleep during the weekends, rather than maintaining a consistent sleep-wake schedule,” says Wolfson. “This has an impact on performance and overall well-being.”

Wolfson offers four tips on how to achieve and maintain good sleep habits:

1. Keep a regular sleep, wake schedule, and maximize sleep duration.

According to Wolfson, maintaining the same number of hours you are asleep and awake on a day-to-day basis is a good idea. However, in a college setting, many students take night classes, stay up late, and then try to get up early for class in the morning. This may resemble rotating shift work and can be detrimental to student health.

“Shift workers are putting themselves at risk for immune issues, weight gain, and other health problems,” says Wolfson.

To maintain a regular sleep schedule, it’s important to regulate sleep, maximize the duration of sleep, and maintain sleep efficiency.

To achieve sufficient sleep duration, adults should try to obtain between seven-and-a-half to eight hours of a sleep a night, and adolescents and college-aged students should get eight-and-a-half to nine hours of sleep a night. Sleep efficiency includes using your bed only for sleeping, which can be challenging for students living in residence halls, where beds often serve as a place to eat, study, and text with friends.

2. Do not use and abuse substances such as alcohol and caffeine.

“Caffeine is not a substitute for sleep. Your body just thinks it is,” says Wolfson, who has been studying sleep for more than three decades. Adenosine, a chemical found in cells, promotes sleep, but when you consume caffeine it tricks the body into staying awake with a crash later.

Similarly, alcohol is another contributing factor to a poor night’s rest. Although many believe alcohol is a depressant, it’s an REM sleep suppressor, meaning the body can’t fall into a deep sleep. During REM sleep one’s muscles are unable to move, and this state of sleep is accompanied by rapid eye movements, vivid dreaming, and faster pulse and breathing. Also, REM sleep is important for learning and memory consolidation.

Sleep deprivation and alcohol is a dangerous combination for operating a vehicle. According to Wolfson, college-students and adolescents are at a higher risk falling asleep at the wheel and being involved in alcohol-related accidents. The latest technology of ordering a ride on your phone has certainly helped, but it’s still important to remember to never drink and drive and/or drive sleep deprived.

3. Create a good sleep environment.

A good sleep environment includes regulating the temperature, lighting, and sounds in your bedroom to help promote a good night’s rest. Wolfson also recommends unplugging from your phone and other digital devices at least 30-60 minutes before going to bed to unwind. Digital media is a major distraction when trying to fall and stay asleep.

According to a study by the National Sleep Foundation, a quarter of the 18 to 25-year-old students surveyed said they were awoken by text messages in the middle of the night.

“People are creating their own problems by having cell phones and electronics near their bed. It’s a light and interaction issue,” says Wolfson.

4. Limit nap time.

Although taking an afternoon nap to feel less tired might seem like a good idea, naps that are longer than an hour may make your body think it’s going to bed for the night. Wolfson suggests setting an alarm if napping during the day.

A college atmosphere can provide distractions for maintaining good sleep habits, but Loyola has a plan to help promote a good night’s rest. The sleep campaign through The Counseling Center provides flyers with sleep tips—like the ones mentioned above. In addition, a module was released this semester for some Messina students to participate in a simulation to help encourage good sleep habits.

“We should prioritize developing good sleep habits, just like we prioritize promoting healthy food in the dining commons,” says Wolfson.

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