A full seven to nine hours of sleep a night sounds great, but it can be pretty hard when your mind is restless with anxious thoughts. Tossing and turning all night can make you tired, moody and less productive. If you’ve found yourself dreading those sleepless nights, Selena Sifontes, a health educator at FIU’s Healthy Living Program (HLP), has some advice for you.
Why we struggle with sleep
Anxiety is the main cause of insomnia because stress activates your fight or flight response and melatonin, the sleep hormone, in inhibited. Some of the most common issues Sifontes sees in her consultations are inconsistent sleep schedules and school responsibilities keeping people awake.
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According to the American Psychological Association, people who sleep poorly report increased stress. Insomnia can wreak havoc on your waking life because you might be sluggish, irritable and unmotivated. If this sounds familiar, HLP offers sleep hygiene consultations.
Sifontes says that prioritizing sleep starts with becoming self-aware of how sleep affects your wellbeing; she calls this, “developing a why”. Notice your performance when you are both well-rested and sleep-deprived to gain a better sense of how sleep affects various aspects of life, like schoolwork or mood.
“When you’ve established a strong, powerful ‘why’…then [it is] much easier [for sleep] to become one of your non-negotiables,” Sifontes adds.
Prep the right way
When trying to get better sleep, create a bedtime routine that helps you unwind to encourage melatonin production.
- Sifontes describes consistency as a crucial part of healthy sleep hygiene, so try keeping the same bedtime every night. This will help your body know when to start preparing for sleep.
- Electronics emit blue light that disrupts melatonin production, so avoid using them at least two hours before bed.
- Utilize aromatherapy. Sifontes recommends using oils like lavender and chamomile because of their calming properties; so find one that you enjoy! Use a diffusor or put a few drops on your pillow!
- Keep a worry journal to store all the stressful thoughts affecting your sleep. Try writing an hour before bed, so those thoughts aren’t fresh in your mind when you go to bed.
Sifontes recommends having some form of stress relief in your waking life so you are less likely to hold on to stressors at bedtime. Any activity that relaxes you works, but some are especially good at aiding sleep.
- Meditation is inherently relaxing and helps put your concerns in perspective.
- Exercise can release energy and tension.
- Creative hobbies can turn those worries into art!
Avoid self-medicating with alcohol and sleeping pills. Although alcohol can make you drowsy, it can wake you up through the night. Sleeping pills should only be used under a doctor’s supervision. Sifontes does not recommend taking melatonin supplements during consultations because it may harm the body’s production of melatonin.
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What to do if you’re in bed and can’t sleep
Your brain is really good at creating patterns, so if you spend a lot of time in bed awake, your brain will associate your bed with wakefulness. Instead, Sifontes suggests:
- Get up if it takes you more than 15 minutes to fall asleep because staying in bed can be more stressful.
- Stay off electronics to avoid blue light
- Avoid checking the time to prevent stress
- Go to a dimly lit room and do something relaxing
- Use your worry journal
Whether you’re trying to boost your immune system, be a good student or enact social change, a good night’s sleep is your best tool for success.
Visit FIU’s Healthy Living Program for additional helpful tips on staying healthy.
By Karina Taylee