Amidst the rush of work, academics, extracurriculars, and just life in general, many of us feel as if we don't have enough time.
And because of this time crunch pressure, many of us give up on the idea of getting the full recommended 7 hours of sleep each night.
We're constantly tired and stressed, which might even be a factor in our lack of sleep. There are some of us who find it easy to fall asleep, while the rest of us find ourselves lying mindlessly in bed for hours. It's frustrating enough not being able to sleep. It feels like a waste of time that could be spent trying to catch some shuteye or finishing up that reading assignment for your GE class.
We've gone through nights where sleep comes within minutes of lying down, but there have also been nights where we'll find ourselves lying in bed aimlessly wide awake.
The transition from the state of wakefulness to sleep is referred to as "sleep onset latency," or SOL. Through numerous studies, it's found that those who suffer from insomnia believe it takes them about 40 minutes to fall asleep, when in actuality, EEG readings have consistently found that they actually fall asleep within about 26 minutes.
It goes to show that we tend to overestimate the time it takes for us to fall asleep, especially when we are trapped in the state of wakefulness when desperately trying to fall asleep. However, through extensive research, scientists have found that the process of falling asleep is more dynamic and complicated than we imagined.
While some people find it easier to nod off than others, experts have found that rather than having an innate ability to doze off, it comes down to helpful bedtime habits and conditioning. Genetics don't have a clear role in determining if you are "good at sleeping" or not. There has been research associating anxiety with insomnia. Women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorder and experience insomnia compared to men.
And while being anxious does lead to lower sleep quality, poor bedtime routines and habits are the most common causes of a restless night. We have the ability to "teach ourselves how to be good sleepers." You have to give your brain time to slow down before you are able to tuck into bed.
But what does it mean to "slow down your mind?"
Avoid emotional interactions. This could be arguing with a friend or partner, or even browsing through your phone, especially social media. Your phones and social media are designed to keep you on it as long as possible. They want your attention. When you check that notification, your brain releases dopamine, otherwise known as the reward or feel-good hormone. This plus the blue light of the screen keeps you on your phone wide awake. Blue light is emitted during the day, subconsciously telling your brain it's day time. As day turns into night, there is less blue light, which tells your biological clock that it's night time, or "time to go to sleep." So because your phone and social media is mind-stimulating, it creates prolonged sleep onset. It's like a sleep repellent. If what you are engaged with before going to bed makes you feel anxious, or emotionally excited, it's going to stall your ability to drift into the dream state.
So what can we do to get a good night's rest?
Meditate. Yeah, I know. That sounds like something moms would say, so let's not call it that. Let's just say it's a couple minutes before bedtime dedicated to a sitdown (or lie down, whatever you prefer) and just focus on breathing. Clear everything from your head. You probably went about your day without allowing yourself to process things, so when you finally get that time before falling asleep, your brain is going to take that time to organize. The child in you might want to laugh at how wack it may seem, but once you get over that, it really does help you let go of the constant rush of thoughts in your head. Meditating comes in many forms. Exercising, especially running, carrying out house chores like doing the dishes, vacuuming, or folding laundry are all ways to give your brain a break and allow for some productive mind-wandering.
Reading before bed sounds cliché, but it doesn't involve much visual stimulation and doesn't require much light. It's an "alone activity." We are constantly bombarded with stimulants and information throughout the day. Just giving yourself some time during the evening to let your mind wander and contemplate your day can improve the quality of your sleep. Unless you are completely drained, sleepiness won't be able to overpower your brain's reorganization.
Sleeping and waking at the same time each day can help set our biological clocks. Taking a simple stroll gives you that silence that your mind needs to think about your day. But of all the things we can do to improve our sleep quality, instead of wasting our time staring at the ceiling in bed, taking time to wind down can go a long way. So...good night and sweet dreams!