You’re probably not sleeping enough.
A National Geographic study reported that the average American sleeps less than seven hours a night, and that 40% of the whole country is sleep-deprived. With class, clinical, personal responsibilities, and hours of studying every day, healthcare students can rank among the worst sleepers, despite learning in their Medical Assisting and Nursing programs how important sleep is. It affects not just your mental and physical health but your studies too, so whether you’re at nursing school in Draper or completing your BSN degree online, here are 10 tips to sleep better during school.
Sleep is as important as nutrition and exercise to your health, so you have to prioritize it like you would anything else. Your body needs a regular sleep schedule to fall asleep quickly, and to wake up rested, so pick a time of night and commit to that bedtime—every night, even on the weekends. Obviously some things come up, but if you begin to view sleep as important as class or work, you won’t be late for it.
Here’s a scary fact:
“Ten minutes of a smartphone in front of your nose is about the equivalent of an hour long walk in bright daylight.”
-Richard Wiseman, author of Night School: Wake Up to the Power of Sleep
It’s because your phone and tablet emit a level of blue light that your brain misinterprets as sunshine. Every time you check your phone before falling asleep or when you wake up in the middle of the night, you’re essentially telling your mind, “Wake up! It’s the middle of the day!” Instead, you should be coaxing your brain to fall asleep, so keep your screen away from you, at least until you need to wake up for school.
Pavlov is famous for classical conditioning, that our brain will expect something based on habitual experiences. He demonstrated this with dogs who just wanted a treat, but it’s as true for nursing students: If you use your bed for something other than sleeping, your brain will expect to study or daydream or watch TV every time you put on your pajamas and slip under the covers. To sleep better during school, you need to train your brain to expect to sleep whenever you get into bed.
This also means that if you’re in bed and you can’t sleep, after about 10 minutes, get up and do something peaceful. Once you begin to feel tired, go back to bed and sleep.
On that note: Every night, for about an hour before bed, do things that relax you, that settle your mind after a busy day of caring for patients or compiling your Clinical Practice Experience Project for your BSN degree. Whether it’s brewing some herbal tea or reading a Jane Austen novel, create a ritual that prepares your mind for sleep.
It sounds like a cliché because it’s said so much—because it’s true. You need a dark and quiet bedroom to fall asleep easily, and to remain sleeping, deeply. If your blinds can’t keep out a street light, or if your bedroom wall faces a busy road, try a sleep mask and ear plugs, or even ambient noise. You used to have to buy machines, but now they’re available as free apps for smartphones.
Even if you have a great and calming night ritual, if you’ve seen something traumatic while working a shift, or if you feel overwhelmed by all of your responsibilities and upcoming projects in school, your mind can remain alert when you try to fall asleep. This is stress, and sometimes anxiety, and one of the best ways to combat these emotions is by processing them. Talk with a roommate or family member, or consider counseling. Talking through your day to yourself, by journaling, can also be effective. Just make sure you process everything before you go to bed.
A lot of students have pets during school. They can be great companions and even reduce stress during finals, but at night, they need to have their own space. Little noises and whining will disrupt your sleep, and if they’re on the bed, even twitches and shifting positions can wake you—and keep you—up.
Dr. Christopher Winter wrote that the ideal sleep temperature is between 60-67°. That’s pretty chilly, but much warmer (or colder) can prevent your body from falling into a deep sleep. If you can, aim for that window each night, and throw on a pair of socks while you’re at it. Your whole body may need to be colder, but warmer feet can actually help you sleep through the night more easily.
Your healthcare students, so you know how important nutrition and exercise are for the human body. They keep your body functioning properly, your mind alert, and your sleep deeper and more restful. Heavy, processed foods and a lack of exercise can disrupt a night’s sleep. Especially as you’re learning the physiological benefits of diet and exercise, practice them yourself, and sleep better.
Nobody’s perfect, and at some point even the most diligent healthcare student will miss out on a full night’s sleep. If this happens to you, try to take a 30-minute nap, no later than four hours before your bedtime. Anything more could prevent you from falling asleep that night, so keep it short to give your mind and body a boost of rest to make it through the day.