Sleeping Soundly

Sleeping soundly should come easy after a day at school.

But, for many of us, nighttime slumber is disrupted by thoughts of our "to-do" list, worries about our studies or workload, or interruptions from roommates, etc. One-third of all American adults experience an occasional or persistent sleep disturbance known as insomnia. According to modest estimates, at least 20-30 million Americans suffer from insomnia.

The Benefits of Sleep

The benefits of sleep are many! When we are asleep, our bodies are healing, our minds are consolidating memories and new information, nutrients are flowing throughout our system, and we are getting essential rest to reduce stress levels and boost our immune system and health. While many people do well when it comes to sleep, some often do not prioritize sleep, as it takes time away from other activities such as homework or studying, or social interactions.

Tips for Adjusting to Daylight Saving Time (Annually in March)

Daylight saving time (DST) starts every second Sunday in March. Clocks are shifted one hour ahead, meaning we lose one hour of sleep. 

  • Ease into earlier bedtimes and waking times - 4 days before the time change, start going to sleep and waking up 15 minutes earlier each day.
  • Get exposure to daylight when you wake up - Open your curtains/blinds or step outside and get some sun. Daylight helps us wake up and helps prime our brains for a normal circadian rhythm, which determines our waking and sleeping patterns.
  • Take a short nap if necessary - If you're tired and struggling with the time change, consider taking a 20-minute nap during the day. Don't take naps if you are struggling to fall asleep at night.

Sleep Quantity vs. Quality

The amount of sleep each of us requires is an individual matter. Some people feel rested with 5-6 hours of sleep; others need 9-10 hours. Generally, most adults sleep 7-8 hours in a 24-hour period. Since no research indicates that a particular amount of sleep is needed, whatever makes you feel refreshed and alert is considered adequate. 

The quality of sleep we get is probably more important than the quantity. Sleep consists of two types of slumber: REM sleep includes rapid eye movement and dreaming, while non-REM sleep includes four stages ranging from light to deep sleep. Each night you pass through 4-6 cycles of REM and non-REM sleep.

It is in these deeper stages of sleep that the body restores itself, giving you that refreshed feeling. As we age, we spend less time getting the stage-four kind of rest. This explains why 40% of all sleeping pills are consumed by people in the 65-79 age group. 

Common Sleep Disorders 

  1.  Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, even when you have the chance to do so. You feel fatigued and as a result, do more poorly in attempted activities. The NIH estimates that roughly 30% of the general American population may have some form of insomnia.
  2. Sleep Apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep, often for up to ten seconds. Obstructive sleep apnea can cause fragmented sleep and low blood oxygen levels. Approximately 4% of college students have sleep apnea - it is rare, but very serious and should be brought up with a physician.

About Insomnia

The term "insomnia" describes trouble falling asleep, disrupted sleep or waking up too early. There are three types of insomnia:

  1. transient insomnia -- lasting for a few nights;
  2. short-term insomnia -- lasting up to three weeks; and
  3. chronic insomnia -- lingering for up to a month or more.

Many factors lead to the disruption of normal sleep. Insomnia is a symptom of some larger problem related to lifestyle or physical or psychological health. This may include the day-to-day pressures of job or school stress, psychological problems like anxiety or depression, or major events such as relationship problems, illness or death of a loved one.

The resulting fatigue of sleep deprivation can lead to increased stress, irritability, and even catastrophe. An estimated 200,000 to 400,000 car and truck accidents every year are related to lack of sleep. Fatigue can lower motivation and negatively impact job performance and personal relationships. Evidence also suggests that sleeplessness may compromise the immune system.

Sleep Tips!

To improve the quality of your sleep, try these slumber-friendly techniques:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every night and day, including weekends.
  • Develop a relaxing, nightly routine such as reading, listening to music, taking a bath.
  • Create an environment conducive to sleep -- quiet, dark, comfortable.
  • Do not use bedtime to do work.
  • Get regular exercise during the day.
  • Avoid stimulants -- caffeine or nicotine -- several hours before bedtime.
  • Do not over- or under-eat before bedtime.
  • Do not consume alcohol before bedtime (it can lead to disrupted sleep).
  • Avoid naps unless you have no problem sleeping at night.
  • Ask your physician if any of your prescribed medication causes sleep disruption.
  • Try relaxing each muscle from your toes to your head or think of a repetitive mental routine such as counting sheep!
  • If you're having a hard time falling sleep, focus on relaxing. Do something that helps you relax (ie. listen to relaxing music, drink some non-caffeinated tea, give yourself a shoulder and head massage, do a breathing exercise, listen to a guided meditation podcast, etc.)

If, after one to two weeks, you do not see improvement, consult your doctor. Your physician can explore physical or emotional causes and prescribe treatment accordingly to alleviate your sleeplessness.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation For Falling Asleep

One technique used to help people sleep is a progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) exercise. In this exercise, you will be tensing your entire body, from your toes to your forehead, and then relaxing. This exercise will help you rid your body of tension that may be interfering with your sleep.

  • Contract the muscles in your toes and feet. Concentrate on feeling them scrunch up tightly. Hold for four to 10 seconds, inhaling as you do so.
  • Exhale and release the tension in your muscles. Breathe slowly through your nose and out through your mouth for another 10 to 20 seconds, focusing on feeling that muscle group and your body sink down. (Don’t worry about the clock or being strict on timing; the point here is to relax.)
  • Move to the next muscle group and repeat:  Try tensing your calves, thighs, and butt, then your core, back, then shoulders, arms, hands, neck, then finally your forehead, eyes, and jaw. If you prefer, you can do PMR in the reverse order, moving from the head down, or in any other sequence.
  • As you move through the muscle groups, notice any areas of your body that holding extra tension. Try squeezing and releasing those areas as many times as necessary to fully relax.

Listen to a Guided PMR Exercise with Dr. Lillian Nejad > 

Find additional guided PMR exercises online.