Written by therapist Pete Marlow

You can always come up with what seems like a good reason to stay up later than you should, but you always regret it in the morning. It can be so easy to tell yourself, “One more episode” or “I could finish this paper if I stay up another hour,” and suffer the consequences once your alarm goes off the next day. With school starting back up again, it’s a good idea to talk about a consistent sleep schedule and why it can serve you well. You probably picked up some unhealthy sleep habits over summer break. Why not? The school year is stressful and demanding, and summer break can offer some freedom from the rigidity that school requires. If you’re tempted to sacrifice sleep this upcoming year, here are some things you can remember that can help you stay on track with a healthy sleep schedule.

Effects of an Unhealthy Sleep Schedule

There are many ways sleep can cause you to suffer physically and mentally, but you might not realize that it can also be a danger to others as well. 

Physical health

Plenty of research has been done to understand the relationship between a person’s sleep schedule and their health. Sleep deprivation has been shown to cause an increase in stress, higher blood pressure, and increased inflammation. These may lead to chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, and decreased immune function. For example, with obesity, research shows that people who sleep less than 6 hours per night are more likely to have a higher than average body mass index (BMI), while people who sleep an average of 8 hours per night have the lowest BMI. Additionally, since lack of sleep decreases motivation, it can also be a hindrance to your exercise routine. 

Mental Health

Sleep issues have also been linked to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and mental performance. A lack of sleep has an effect on a person’s mood, their ability to focus, and their ability to access higher-level cognitive functions. Poor sleep leads to an increase in cortisol, which is the “stress hormone” that triggers anxiety. Additionally, staying up late to try and cram for the exam will not only negatively affect your performance on the exam, but also your performance in every other class you have the next day. 

Personal and Public Safety

A lack of sleep has been shown to lead to a decrease in judgment. We need to be able to make good judgment calls throughout the day to keep ourselves and others safe. Just think about driving on city streets or the freeway and how quickly the situation can change in a split second and require you to make a sound judgment call. Or you may work at a job that requires you to care for others; if you have not been getting enough sleep, your ability to care for them could put them at risk. 

Tips to Improve Sleep Schedule

Now that we have a better understanding of how a lack of sleep can be harmful to you both in the short- and long-term, let’s look at some tips for improving sleep quality. 

Establish a calming bedtime routine. We read stories to children at bedtime, not just because we want them to enjoy reading, but also because it is a soothing activity. It’s the same for adults. Reading a book after you get into bed helps bring your mind and body to a place where you’re ready for sleep. 

Exercise consistently. Having a consistent exercise regimen is helpful as it takes away much of the excess energy you may feel at the end of the day. 

Avoid late night snacks. These require our bodies to continue working to be able to digest and metabolize the food and it can delay your falling asleep and make your sleep not as deep and restful. 

Leave your phone on the nightstand. No good comes from opening your phone while lying in bed. The light from the screen hurts your ability to produce melatonin that helps stabilize your sleep-wake cycle. I know a long list of corporations from varying industries have deftly maneuvered to make us addicted to our phones, but stay strong. Putting your phone into a drawer on your nightstand or in a box by your bed at a certain time every night before you get into bed can be effective. 

Stretching or yoga. Consistently practicing some type of yoga or stretching before you get into bed will relax your body and mind and help you get to a peaceful state. 

Deep breathing. A simple deep breathing exercise will increase your level of calm and promote sleep. Just practice taking a deep breath through your nose for about four seconds, hold it for a second and then slowly let it out for another four seconds. While doing this you can picture your breath as a wave crashing on the shore as you breathe in, and going back out to sea as you exhale.

Reach Out

Not having a healthy sleep schedule can be harmful to anyone, including students. It negatively affects your ability to perform well in class, while doing your homework, studying for exams, and it can also be detrimental to your short- and long-term mental and physical health. It can seem like staying up another hour or two is “what you need”, but it’s only setting you back. If you have been having difficulty with your sleep schedule, or if a lack of sleep has been causing mental health issues for you, don’t hesitate to set up an appointment with us! We would love to help you process and work through whatever you’re dealing with and help you establish a healthy sleep routine.

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