Friday, May 18, 2007

Self-Care Week: Sleep

For those of you just stopping by, the week the LAC blogs focus on self-care. During the intense Spring and Summer sessions, it can be particularly challenging to meet our basic needs, such as getting enough sleep, food, and exercise. What do the LAC bloggers do to meet these needs? What do you do to keep on track with your self-care?

Sleep on it!
Like most university students, I have lived through periods of little or no sleep. What university student hasn’t stayed up late to study for a test or exam, woken up early to get a reading done before class, and/or “pulled an all-nighter” to get an assignment finished? For the most part, I managed to struggle through these sleepless times and was able to catch up on my sleep within a few days. Sometimes, however, sleep deprivation has become so serious that it severely interferes with my normal daytime activities.

What causes sleep problems?

Sleep difficulties often arise during periods of increased stress. For me the pressures of school, family and social life, which are particularly heightened during the intense
Spring-Summer session at university, certainly qualify as “periods of increased stress.”

What are the effects of poor/inadequate sleep?
When I sleep poorly, I feel less energetic and less alert, especially mid-afternoon. I also have trouble concentrating, and don’t remember things as well. For example, I lose my keys a couple of times a day when I’m really tired.

For me, the worst effects of sleep deprivation are the emotional ones. I’m moody, irritable, and more anxious. The little things (did I mention losing my keys?) are really upsetting when I’m over-tired. When I’m tired, I eat poorly; for example, I’ll have a Pepsi and a chocolate bar to keep me going in the afternoon if I haven’t slept the night before. If I have several days, or even weeks of poor/inadequate sleep, I’m not surprised if I get sick with a cold, because lack of sleep compromises my immune response.

What do I do to improve my sleep?
The more stressful my life is, the more careful and focused I need to be about sleep hygiene. I get more and better sleep by practicing the 4 R’s of good sleep hygiene:

Regularize my sleep-wake patterns.
I stick to a schedule: go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
Though it may seem counter-intuitive, regular napping during the day helps me to sleep better at night. My best naps are right after lunch, and last 15-30 minutes (longer naps leave me feeling groggy).

Ritualize going to bed.
I do the same thing every night before going to bed (drink warm milk, brush teeth, warm bath, read, listen to music).
I keep my bedroom comfortable for sleep. For me that means dark, cool, and quiet.

Relax before or in bed.
I practice some relaxation techniques, like deep breathing, with help from a relaxation CD.

Resist behaviours that interfere with sleep.
I’m careful about what I drink before bed. For me, that means no alcohol, coffee, tea, or soft drinks 4-5 hours before bed.
I also avoid heavy meals and strenuous exercise 2-3 hours before bed.

What to do when I can’t sleep
Tossing and turning in bed leaves me frustrated, so if I lie awake more than 15 minutes, I get up and do something (watch TV, read), then go back to bed.

Want to know more about students and sleep? Check out these sources
Buboltz, Walter C., Franklin Brown and Barlow Soper. “Sleep Habits and Patterns of College Students: A Preliminary Study.” Journal of American College Health. 50.3 (2001): 131-135.

Kelly, William E. “Sleep-length and life satisfaction in a college student sample.” College Student Journal, 38.3 (2004): 428-430.

Click on “sleep” in the index to see a list of websites specifically devoted to university students and sleep.


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