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Rested Development: 11 Sleep Tips for a Better Night’s Rest

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11 Sleep Tips for a Better Night's Sleep Dr Alon Avidan Sleep Expert UCLA Sleep Disorders CenterStudying for exams, late nights with friends, loud neighbors, FOMO, your side hustle, stress-laden insomnia, TV binge sessions. If you’re like most college students, you have as many reasons for getting a poor night’s sleep as there are days in the week. Well, to set you on the right track this semester, we talked with Dr. Alon Y. Avidan, Director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, about his top sleep tips for a better night’s rest.

Sleep deprivation, Avidan says, is serious – and has consequences. Sure, you may think you can pull that one all-nighter, be a little groggy for class, and muster your way through that biology midterm, but continued insomnia and bad sleep habits can lead to health complications, weight gain, depression, car accidents, and memory loss.

“The message we want to send is: sleep is not negotiable,” implores Avidan, also a neurology professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “You cannot take it for granted because eventually it’s going to catch up with you.”
The good news is there are a few things you can do at bedtime and throughout the day to help ensure better sleep and a good night’s rest. Ta da! Avidan’s top sleep tips for college students.

1. Maintain regular sleep/wake schedule
You knew this before you even clicked to open this article. But the professional is here to tell you – you need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. “What ends up happening is sleep tends to get curtailed and made up on the weekends,” says Avidan. “But you cannot sleep for six hours one night, then make it up with a two-hour nap during the day. That doesn’t add up. Sleep is not like a bank account.”

2. Create a conducive sleeping environment
Sleeping rituals become ingrained and cue your brain for sleep (again, it’s a part of that circadian rhythm). Avidan says that means shutting down lights – and your thermostat. “Keep your room temperature around 68-69 degrees and make sure your room is quiet, dark, a little cooler.” Also: upgrade your bedding. “Make sure that your mattress and pillows are comfortable. Especially in dormitories, the beds tend to be notoriously uncomfortable.” Dark blinds, an eye mask, and a noise machine can also help the sleep challenged.

3. Avoid caffeine before bedtime
Whether your caffeine BFF of choice is coffee, tea, Coke, or Red Bull, Avidan recommends that you finish your favorite sipper upper before noon (yes, you read that right.) “The half life on caffeine can be about six hours and it can delay sleep. Even if you have decaf – it still has a bit caffeine in it.” Minimize alcohol, which can cause sleep apnea, and nicotine, which is a stimulant, four hours before bedtime.

4. More relaxation, less screen time
As bedtime nears, put down the iPad and pick up a book (maybe one of Avidan’s?). Avidan warns that the blue spectrum light from your laptop, TV, and phone is more harmful than other bands of light and stimulates the circadian rhythm in your brain and “makes it difficult for the brain’s clock to shut down and not allow you to fall asleep properly,” he says. Avidan suggests a boring book (i.e., no page-turning mysteries that will keep you up) or listening to relaxing music. (We like to journal and write our gratitude list before shutting out the light.)

5. Power up with a power nap
If you need to, “the best nap is a short nap – a power nap of 15 to 20 minutes,” says Avidan, and he recommends taking it between 1 and 3 p.m. “If your nap is taken too late or too long, it makes it difficult to fall asleep that night.”

6. Hit the gym
Regular exercise helps you sleep better in the grander scheme (less stress, less insomnia) and in the immediate (post-workout physical fatigue and a drop in body temp, which helps stimulate sleep). “But not too close to bedtime,” says Avidan. “Early afternoon is perfect. Finish exercise at least four hours before going to bed.”

7. Avoid that late night double cheeseburger
A couple of slices of pizza after your night class, an overstuffed burrito while you study. Rethink it, says Avidan. High calorie, fatty meals within two to three hours of bedtime is not a good idea. Your body will still be digesting, therefore stimulating your body and keeping you awake, and you’re more likely to develop gastric reflux and heartburn, he says. “If you feel hungry at bedtime, eat granola, banana, or pretzels. Nothing too fatty.”

8. Say goodbye to late nights and all-nighters
But your Russian literature paper is due tomorrow, you say. Well, there’s this thing called delayed sleep phase disorder, Avidan says. This circadian rhythm disorder is common in college students who get in a pattern of bad sleep schedules and shift their waking clock. “The student goes to bed at 1, 2, 3 in the morning and cannot wake up until 10, 11, 12 the next day,” he says. It can affect your attention span and memory, and, in turn, your grades. If you end up falling into a delayed sleep pattern, Avidan recommends seeing a sleep specialist, who may recommend melatonin or light exposure therapy.

9. Use the bed only for sleep
Tough one, we know. But Avidan insists – no computers, television, video games, or texting on that comfy new mattress. “We want the bed to be a sanctuary only for sleep,” says Avidan.

10. Avoid sleep aids
“A few nights might be OK, but using it chronically can be a problem,” says Avidan. Sleeping pills tend to give you a poor quality sleep, make you groggy the next day so you don’t pay attention in class, and the side effects on over-the-counter sleep aids can lead to heart issues, restlessness, and dry mouth.

11. Curb your insomnia’s enthusiasm
That means avoiding stress (“Ha ha,” said every college student ever.) Between homework, tuition bills, your job, and juggling extracurriculars, it might be difficult to unwind your mind at the end of the day. Mitigating stress goes back to Avidan’s other sleep tips – exercising, eating right, and turning off social media. If you do grapple with insomnia every now and again, and you can’t fall asleep within 15 to 20 minutes, “the best thing is to get out of bed,” says Avidan. “Pick up a boring book or do relaxation techniques to help shut the mind off and prepare your body for sleep.”

For more sleep tips, check out the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center. Have your own tricks and tips on how to get a better night’s sleep? Meet us on Facebook (unless it’s just before your bedtime).


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