Get ready to snooze: A student’s perspective on the importance of sleep hygiene for mental health
By Jaden Haywood, a member of the Student Wellness Awareness Network
For post-secondary students, the stress of juggling multiple courses and looming deadlines often leads to late-night cram sessions and all-nighter essay marathons. Many students sacrifice sleep to keep their heads above water.
Sound familiar? Have you felt like a zombie, waking up after a late night? Energy, mood and appetite are all affected by the lack of sleep. Symptoms include fatigue, irritability and difficulty focusing and remembering. I experience junk food cravings, sluggishness and crankiness when I get insufficient sleep and as a result, I struggle in school and at work.
Sleep is crucial for restoring our physical and mental health. For example, our bodies’ natural reduction of stress hormones happens overnight. Even so, many students prioritize studying instead of sleep.
It’s time for sleep hygiene
Tired and cranky isn’t a winning combo for academic success. I try to get a full eight hours of sleep each weeknight, facilitated by my sleep hygiene routine. What is sleep hygiene? The practice of caring for the body and maintaining health via sleep.
Successful sleep hygiene involves a disturbance-free environment and a consistent routine. I’m most productive in the morning, so I crafted my sleep hygiene routine accordingly: I wake up at 7am and go to bed by 11pm on school nights. After weeks of repetition, my body naturally wakes up on time; I’ve developed an internal alarm clock!
Notably, my phone is absent from my bedroom at night. Phone screens’ blue light messes with our circadian rhythm (the cycle of sleeping and waking). By removing the distraction, I fall asleep quicker and wake feeling refreshed.
Sleep may be my superpower, but I’m not immune to the pitfalls that prevent a good night’s sleep. Nights out and the weather can disrupt a sleep hygiene routine – heatwaves are terribly uncomfortable without air conditioning – and frequent stress triggers can result in tossing and turning at night. There have been times I’ve lain awake at night, preoccupied by thoughts and unable to fall asleep.
To combat this restlessness, I keep a notebook on my nightstand. I find writing my thoughts and ideas provides perspective, and this helps quiet my mind, enabling sleep. Other successful strategies include bedtime meditation and deep breathing, techniques to slow the heart rate and induce relaxation.
Jot it down
Ready to get a better night’s sleep? The Sleep Foundation provides a Sleep Diary to track the quantity and quality of your sleep. Fill it out every day for a week to identify your current sleeping habits. Everyone’s sleep hygiene routine is different, but we all share one thing in common: a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night! A small increase in sleep could have a big impact on your physical and mental health.
What have you got to lose? It’s time to snooze!
This blog post is a part of Beyond the Blues, an annual event that raises awareness of mental health issues for students, helps them better understand and support their mental and emotional health and highlights mindfulness and self-care techniques to help them succeed inside and outside the classroom. Learn what mental health awareness means for our students through their own words and personal experiences.