Don’t discount what your body has to say
This past semester I discovered how fickle sleep can be. Like an unreliable partner, it casually walked in and out of my life — leaving me a sunken-eyed, moody mess.
The gall of some basic human needs.
But I’m not alone. A 2022 CDC study reports that 60 per cent of college students have poor quality sleep. This begs the question: what are we doing wrong and how do we fix it?
The truth is that you likely already know the answer; the most common advice to get a good night’s sleep isn’t a secret. Exercise during the day, don’t have caffeine past so-and-so hour, limit screen time before bed, avoid alcohol, yada yada.
But what if this advice is too idealistic for a generalized student’s lifestyle? Am I the exception, ordering an americano from BiblioCafé at 3:30 p.m. on a study night or scrolling on my phone under the covers before bed?
Maybe the realistic question is, ‘how do we reconcile our sleep habits with our daily habits?’ This isn’t to say that we’re unable to make healthy changes when needed, but goals that aren’t attainable won’t be met.
So, if you want to take back some control over your sleep, start listening to your body. Pay attention to the quality of your sleep for a week and reflect on your behaviours during the days and evenings.
For example, I enjoy a beer in the evening, but have noticed that this will often interrupt my sleep. Do I still sometimes choose to have a couple drinks? Of course. But being aware of how my body reacts to this choice allows me to be more confident in enjoying a better sleep when I don’t partake.
Similarly, you may want to track the impact of drinking water before bed. Some people prefer to stop drinking water a couple hours before bed because they know it’s difficult to get back to sleep after getting up to use the washroom in the middle of the night.
Consider your pre-sleep routine. Do you use social media, watch Netflix, or read in bed? Change it up some nights to see what happens. In fact, the conventional wisdom that screen time before bed is always harmful may be more nuanced than that.
A 2022 paper published in the Journal of Sleep Research found that watching a streaming service or listening to podcasts the hour before bed may actually improve aspects of sleep. However, the study also found that when this routine is used for a longer period of time before bed, the same benefits were not present. Be aware of your tendency to binge your favorite show. If one episode turns into two or three, maybe you’re better off avoiding this routine altogether.
Use this same approach for exercise. I don’t expect someone who doesn’t normally work out routinely to begin hitting the gym four days a week after hearing that exercise improves sleep. But why not start light and try going for walks around the neighborhood? Or, if you do work out, experiment with the time of day that you go, or the intensity of your routine. How do these changes affect your ability to fall asleep or remain asleep throughout the night?
What I’m trying to say is, be confident in what feedback your body gives you. Pay attention, do your own research, and get that seven to nine.