Most of us struggle with sleep disturbances at one point or another. Here are some general guidelines that may help improve your sleep.
During the Day
- Determine how many hours of sleep you need for optimal functioning and feeling rested. Consider the following to determine the natural length of your sleep cycle.
- How many hours did you sleep on average as a child?
- Before you began experiencing sleep difficulties, how many hours of sleep per night did you sleep on the average?
- How many hours of sleep do you need to awaken naturally without an alarm?
- How many hours of sleep do you need in order to not feel sleepy or tired during the day?
- Establish a regular sleep schedule by going to bed at the same time every night and getting up the same time every day, even if you're tired in the morning. Having a different sleep-wake schedule on the weekends can also throw you off. However, if you consistently have difficulties falling asleep, try getting up half an hour earlier in the morning than your usual time; it may help you get to sleep that night.
- Avoid napping during the day as much as you can, unless you want to take a quick "power" nap that is no longer than 20 minutes. Make sure you wake up within 15-20 minutes, otherwise your sleep cycle at night will be disrupted. If you do take a nap, don't do it later than the afternoon.
- Exercise during the day. Regular aerobic exercise that gets your heart beating and gets you panting for 20 minutes or more can decrease body tension, alleviate stress, alleviate anxiety and depressive symptoms, and contribute to an overall feeling of wellbeing. Try not to exercise within two hours prior to your bedtime.
- Reduce your caffeine and nicotine intake, especially after 2pm. Coffee, tea, soda, chocolate all have caffeine which is known to make people jumpy, anxious, and/or awake. Avoid more than 2 cups total per day. Cigarettes are also stimulators, and can increase anxiety and jumpiness. If you continue to experience anxiety or nervousness, stop use completely.
- Avoid alcohol use or other substances in the evening. Although alcohol and some substances may initially make you sleepy, it can cause you to become very awake in the middle of the night. Avoid moderate to heavy use during the day. If you continue to have problems, stop use completely.
Just Before Bedtime
- Avoid heavy meals before bedtime, but also avoid going to bed hungry. A very small snack about an hour before bedtime may be helpful.
- Develop a sleep ritual before bedtime. Rituals that signal closure for the day could be putting the dog out, closing up the house for the night, reading a book (not an exciting mystery), having a warm calming herbal tea, evening prayers, or doing something like meditation, or deep breathing exercises. All of these behaviors are targeted for shifting your thinking from the daily stressors to closure that the day is over and it is time for rest so that you can start a new day tomorrow.
- Avoid physical and mental stimulation just before sleep time. Working on projects, house cleaning, watching something exciting on television, or reading something that has an exciting plot just prior to going to bed can energize you instead of helping you to have closure at the end of the day.
- Take a warm bath one to two hours before bedtime. Experiment with the time to determine what works best for you. A good 20 minute soaking in a warm bath is a great relaxer. It raises your core body temperature by several degrees which naturally induces drowsiness and sleep.
- If you cannot stop thinking and go to sleep, give yourself one minute to review whatever it is you are thinking about. One way to clear your mind before bed is to briefly jot down your thoughts and anything that is on your mind.
- Keep the bedroom (and especially the bed) for sleeping and sex only. If you use your bedroom as an office, studying, or other activities, your mind will associate the bedroom with those activities which is not conducive to sleep.
- Reduce noise if needed through the use of ear plugs or a noise-masking machine.
- Keep your room temperature between 60-70 degrees.
- If you can't sleep, do not get too upset; do not fight, resist, or fear sleeplessness. Get up out of bed after 20 minutes if you can't fall asleep. Drink something warm that is decaffeinated, splash your face with warm water, engage in some relaxing activity, then go back in bed and try again.
We also encourage you to seek personal counseling at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), Student Wellness Center, Room 300B (third floor), to help explore possible personal or interpersonal factors that may be contributing to your sleep difficulties. Our personal counselors are available for appointments and walk in crisis counseling. Please call 408-924-5910 to schedule an appointment or for more information. It is also recommended that you see a medical professional at Student Health Center (located in the Student Wellness Center) to rule out any physical causes of your sleep disruptions.