Sleep is like a time machine to breakfast.
After months of sleeping, eating, napping, and repeating, suddenly jumping back into a full-time schedule seems like a bigger challenge than the laundry pile sitting next to me. While basking in summer’s lack of routines and responsibilities, it’s easy to lose track of just how many Zzz’s we’re catching a night.
If you’re anything like me, your sleep schedule over the past few months has consisted of winding down around 8 p.m. with the best of intentions to suddenly staying up past 3 a.m. watching Unsolved Mysteries. From here, it’s a downward spiral of sleeping in until noon, then sneaking into the kitchen for breakfast past your housemates who have been up for hours.
Although most of us will be enjoying the Fall semester from the comforts of our homes, this doesn’t mean we can forget about the importance of a healthy sleep schedule— especially when your bed is right there calling your name during that 8 a.m. online lecture.
This 2018 study found disrupted sleep to be the single biggest predictor of academic struggles amongst post-secondary students. As students ourselves, we both know and begrudge this. Sleep impacts our memory, decision-making abilities, immune system, and worst of all, our mood—that burnt bagel can go from an inconvenience to the end of the world in a matter of minutes.
So, we know sleep is imperative to academic success and both our physical and mental health, but how do we even begin to regain control of our sleeping habits?
Understanding your body’s internal clock
Picture this: it’s Sunday morning and you roll over to the sound of birds chirping outside your window with the sun beaming inside your room. After a big stretch and rub of the eyes, you feel like you’ve just woken up into a dreamy Disney movie—that is until you look at the clock. It’s 7 a.m. on the one day you had to sleep in.
No matter how much we think we deserve those extra hours of sleep after a busy week filled with early mornings, once your body gets used to the rhythm of waking up and going to bed at a specific time, it will continue to do so whether your alarm wakes you or not.
The beauty of this system, however, is that our bodies will adapt to the cues that we give them through our daily routines and environment. Meaning, that 7 a.m. wake-up-call won’t feel so dreadful and winding down at 8 p.m., will actually meanwinding down and getting that sweet shut-eye.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “Mackenzie, my problem isn’t waking up too early. My problem is not being able to fall asleep or wake up at all!” I hear you. If your body’s Big Ben needs a tune-up, listen up.
Negative impacts on your sleep
If you’re someone who drinks an endless cup of coffee every day, stares at your computer, phone, or TV screen up until bedtime, and whose bed is a makeshift dinner table, workspace, and couch, you might not like what I’m about to say.
It’s an unfortunate but true fact that some of our lifestyle choices may be the reason behind our poor sleep hygiene. There’s no denying the science behind our brain’s release of melatonin—the hormone released to help regulate our body’s sleep/wake cycle.
Some ways we impact that sleep/wake cycle include:
Caffeine does one amazing thing—keeps us awake. However, it does one terrible thing—keeps us awake. This study found the consumption of caffeine can delay the timing of our body’s internal clock. Not only can caffeine push your bedtime back, but it can also impact the quality of sleep you’re getting.
If you’re needing that extra cup of Joe throughout the day, try drinking it at least six hours before bed to get the caffeine out of your system and you to sleep.
Blue light before bed
The sun is not the only light source keeping us up until sunset. Our phones, computers, TV’s, and remotely anything with a screen, emit a high-intensity blue light that impacts our brain’s release of melatonin. So basically, our brain thinks it’s still daytime when you’re scrolling through TikTok at midnight.
The solution? Utilize your electronics’ night shift mode to dim blue light before bed. Up late working on an essay? There are many blue light blocking glasses available that can reduce the impact blue light has on your brain. Lastly, simply make your room a technology-free zone two to three hours before bedtime. The tortoise eating lettuce on TikTok can wait until morning.
Sleeping and working in the same space
In a world where we are expected to work and study from home, it’s important to find ways to set boundaries between your work and sleep space.
Why? Our brains become fixated on where we sleep and work. If those two places are the same, sleep and work become almost synonymous. By making your bed the exclusive spot for sleeping, your brain begins to associate your bed with sleep, therefore, releasing that beautiful sleepy hormone–melatonin.
So, you’ve cut out your evening cup of coffee, shut down your nightly binge of reality TV, and stuck to working from your dining table. Still can’t sleep? Here are some bonus tips:
Gradually wake up
Suddenly setting that blaring iPhone alarm for 6 a.m. can not only cause you to wake up feeling jolted and jaded, but it might also send you into a nap-a-thon later in the day.
Instead, gradually increase your wake-up-call by 15-minutes over several days to give your body time to adjust. Needing a quick fix? Opt for an alarm that slowly raises in volume to wake you up— or better yet, use either natural or artificial light as an alarm.
Set the mood
Break out the candles, throw on some soulful music, and draw the bubble bath!
Commit to doing some calming self-care before bed–read, listen to calming music, meditate, or get your skincare on. Whatever you choose, celebrate you and your loyalty to your mental health.
Avoid exercise and eating before bed
Say yes to self-care and no to late-night snacks and midnight munchies. Food is fuel but when it comes to those evening cravings, aim to have your final meal three hours before bed. Save yourself the heartburn and sleepless night.
Exercise, on the other hand, is the perfect way to boost your alertness and kickstart your metabolism—all of which we want to avoid while sleeping. An hour before hitting the hay, wind down and leave the workout till the morning.
There you have it! Your complete guide to resetting your sleep schedule in time for those morning classes and late-night study sessions. Fluff up those pillows, throw your sheets in the wash, put your phone away, and sleep tight.