Night owl or early bird? Yes, you can fix your sleep schedule!

As students return to school after a break, there is excitement about new classes, professors and classmates. For some students, it can also be a struggle to get up for the 8 a.m. you had to sign up for because it was the only option to graduate.

With deadlines creeping up quickly, late-night study sessions in the library or staying up too late and being social can throw a student’s sleep schedule off. Is it possible to fix a lousy sleep schedule?

Patterson Emesibe, a North Quad residential life coordinator, shared some information that can be helpful to students. Here are some tips he recommends:

1. Waking up at the same time every day to regulate our circadian rhythm. 

According to Bjørn Bjorvatn, a professor and leader of coordinated PraksisNet and leader of science group Sleep, Musculoskeletal complaints, Infection and Labratory medicine (SMIL) at the University of Bergen, Norway, “Our biological circadian rhythms are relatively stable, and will be maintained even if subjects are isolated from factors that affect the rhythm.” 

This means that without light and dark affecting your circadian rhythm you will continue to follow your own internal biological clock. “It has been shown that this clock does not necessarily follow a 24-hour day. In fact, the built-in circadian rhythm under normal conditions averages just over 24 hours. This means that the biological clock must be adjusted every day, otherwise we wake up later from day to day.”

2. If you snore, ask for a sleep study because you could have sleep apnea or maybe a mild form of asthma.

“Many people have experienced a night with bad sleep, but for some individuals the sleep problems are present almost every single night. These problems affect your performance level, both at work, school and at home. There have been studies about the frequency of sleep disorders in various counties and most results show that between 10-20% of the grown population suffers from serious and long lasting sleep problems,” says Bjorvatn.

“There are many causes of sleep problems, and within the sleep field there are six different diagnostic groups. A thorough investigation is therefore important. The symptoms may be similar from patient to patient, but the cause/diagnosis may be different,” Bjorvatn explained. “Therefore, treatment should not be started before a thorough medical history and any clinical examination has been carried out.”

“‘Should I stay up an extra hour studying to ace the big test tomorrow?’”  said Kevin Grobman, a California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) psychology professor. “Intuitively, we answer yes. But sleep is vital to every part of our health, like weight gain, suffering depression, irritability harming peer relationships, and focus loss harming schoolwork. We just don’t realize how tragically common sleep-loss is. I made an activity for Introductory Psychology students where they’re often shocked to witness how their sleep loss drops their quiz grades and impacts how often we trip, bump, drop and spill things.”

3. Create a daily night routine to wind yourself down. That way, you don’t go to sleep too amped or with high nervous/anxious energy because that can affect your sleep cycle.

“Exercise regularly, however, wind down at least three hours before bedtime. Avoid napping during the day, (possibly allow a nap if it’s less than 20 minutes). Don’t stay in bed longer than your expected sleep time,” Bjorvatn advises.

He also recommends, “avoid coffee, tea, Coca-Cola and energy drinks (any drinks containing caffeine) after 5 p.m. Avoid using alcohol as a sleeping aid. While alcohol can help in facilitating falling asleep fast, it results in a restless sleep with many awakenings and overall worse sleep quality. Avoid a high intensity work out hours before bedtime. Create a bedtime routine and ensure you have a dark, quiet and (room with a moderate temperature). Use a sleeping mask or earplugs if necessary. Don’t look at the clock if you wake up during the night. Set aside a problem-half-hour during the afternoon, or early during the evening where you think about your worries, and problems. Avoid taking these issues with you to bed.”

5. People often use melatonin, Magnesium and CBN. Try Magnesium first. 

Bjorvatn agrees with Emesibe and states that “It is uncertain if melatonin has a direct impact on sleep, regardless of the effect it has on our circadian rhythm. The hormone has been branded as a possible sleeping aid, but the results of this treatment have been divided. It can be hard to differentiate the effect of our circadian rhythm, from a possible direct effect on our sleep. This means that even though melatonin decreases the sleeping in phase, it can be as a result of impacting our circadian rhythm and not our falling asleep mechanism. Avoid regular use of sleeping aids like melatonin. They do not fix your sleeping issue.”

6. If you don’t eat enough during the day, the feeling of hunger can keep you awake.

“Avoid being hungry when you are going to bed, but don’t eat a heavy meal right before your bedtime either,” Bjorvatn advises.

7. Put your alarm in another room, close enough to hear it, so you have to get on your feet to turn it off when you wake up.

Third-year German exchange student Lynn Schneider agrees with the points given from Bjorvatn, and Emesibe.

“In order to get enough sleep during the week, it is important for me to have a consistent sleep schedule. After I decided to stick to a specific time for going to bed for several weeks, both my sleep quality and the number of hours I sleep have increased significantly,” Schneider says. “Since it has become a habit to always go to bed at the same time, I have been able to fall asleep faster. Therefore, I would definitely recommend getting into the habit of this sleep routine.”

Schneider also has some tips for fellow international Otters, or Otters who are feeling wanderlust. 

“I had to deal with jetlag a few weeks ago when I came to the United States. It was definitely a challenge to get used to the nine-hour time difference. It may seem obvious, but the most important thing for me when traveling to a country with a significant time difference is to definitely not take a nap on the day of arrival. Besides, it is very helpful to maintain a set sleeping schedule even when traveling and trying to go to bed at your ‘usual’ bedtime will help you to keep your natural rhythm.”

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