CANDICE O'NEAL/THE OBSERVER
It’s the new year, and one of your New Year’s resolutions should be to get better, more consistent sleep. We are at the onset of this new semester, and there is still time to incorporate healthy sleep habits into our daily schedules. Most importantly, it’s better to start these healthy sleep habits early in the semester, so we can prepare ourselves for a healthy midterms and finals season in the coming months.
Habit One: Turn off your phone
One of the greatest barriers to restorative sleep is electronic device use. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends setting up a “digital curfew” in which individuals eliminate cell phone, television and e-reader use for a period of time before bed. The NSF recommends this “digital curfew” take place anywhere from two to 30 minutes before falling asleep. Incorporating this curfew into your routine may require plugging your phone into an outlet across the room or in another room altogether, and if you use your phone as an alarm clock, you could set your ringtone volume higher.
Devices with screens emit blue light, which is the same kind of light produced in the morning daylight hours. This light regulates a system of chemicals that make up the human circadian rhythm, or the wake and sleep cycle. Blue light destroys melatonin production, which is the chemical responsible for initiating sleep. Blue light also increases the number of chemicals in the brain involved in wakefulness.
Joan Roberts, Ph.D., professor of chemistry in the Fordham Department of Natural Science, contends that any blue light exposure in the hours before sleeping can offset “the production of melatonin and therefore interfere with deep restorative sleep.”
Phone usage before sleep is deeply ingrained in our routine as young adults, so dropping this habit may be especially difficult. However, substituting reading paper books, doing homework or listening to music in place of scouring social media may lead to an easier transition into this healthy habit.
Habit Two: Get more sleep
Young adults, aged 18 to 25, should get seven to nine hours of sleep every night. To many Fordham students, this number seems impossible, but it is worth a shot, because getting enough sleep has numerous health benefits. Not only does sleeping enough benefit the immune system and mental health, but it also enhances academic performance. So it might be to your advantage to trade those few extra hours of studying for a couple more hours of sleep.
A sleep study published in the journal Stress and Health indicated a “decrease in psychological strain and an increase in self-regulatory performance.” Researchers closely associate these two factors with effective stress management; individuals who test for low psychological strain and high self-regulation while doing tasks can better cope with stress. The researchers in this study found a large incidence of these abilities among college students who consistently received a sufficient amount of sleep. As college students, these abilities are immensely important as we attack each day of our busy academic careers, so sleeping for longer periods on a consistent basis can greatly benefit our daily lives.
Dedicating seven to nine hours of your day to sleep requires that you make sleeping a priority. Managing your time in an effective way to maximize sleep will help you accomplish this goal. Planning out times for studying, work and leisure into your calendar will help you accomplish tasks earlier in the day to avoid all-nighters. Moreover, following the age-old advice of starting assignments early will immensely benefit your sleep schedule.
Habit Three: Avoid drinking caffeine
It has helped college students get through their lectures for hundreds of years, yet caffeine has not been kind to college students’ sleep schedules. In healthy adults, the half-life of caffeine in the body is between five to six hours after consumption, meaning that after drinking a cup of coffee at 4 p.m., your body has broken down only half of that cup of coffee by 10 p.m.. When you try to fall asleep, your system will be flush with caffeine.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine demonstrates caffeine’s detrimental effects on sleep. Participants who consumed caffeine six hours before bed slept one hour fewer than participants who did not consume caffeine. Participants who consumed caffeine before sleeping experienced a greater number of sleep disturbances such as waking up throughout the night. Caffeinated sleepers also experienced less time in deep sleep, which is a major indicator of poor sleep quality. The study concluded that caffeine should be avoided for at least six hours before sleeping.
Caffeine-addicted students, however, may find this habit the harder to tackle, but there are effective alternatives to caffeine that can maintain alertness in the evening. Essential oils like mint are closely linked to increased alertness, so diffusing these oils in a study space may help enhance your concentration. Physical activity as small as going on a walk also increases alertness. Healthy meals and snacks rich in protein, vitamins and low in sugar should also help maintain alertness.
These three habits may seem simple, but the vast majority of young adults don’t follow these habits. Taking into account our fast-paced, results-driven culture, it is no surprise that students fail to prioritize sleep. Nevertheless, we have the power to shift this culture through our actions, so close your laptop, make yourself a cup of decaffeinated tea and go to bed.