Last fall, I posted my sleeplessness woes on The Huffington Post as part of the Freshman 8. I made the goal for myself to work on my sleep habits and try to reduce the number of nights I spent tossing and turning, praying for sleep to come. Well, it's been nine months and you know what I've learned? Sleep takes practice.
"What? That's crazy, sleep is a natural process, you don't have to work at it." This was my initial response after reading other bloggers' posts and perusing the Google results when I searched for "how to sleep better." While it may not be the most eloquent statement I've ever typed into a search bar, it was true that I didn't just want to get more sleep, I wanted to get quality sleep -- better sleep. What I learned was that I need to prepare myself for sleep, both physically and mentally.
The first step I took in my quest for a good night's rest was to set a bedtime and stick to it. While this initially brought me back to the elementary school days of arguing with my parents to let me stay up "just five minutes more," it made a huge difference in adding precious hours to my sleep cycle. I gave myself a 60-minute window each night during which I would stop what I was doing and go to bed. After a few weeks, my body got used to this routine at a certain time, and automatically got into "sleep mode" each night. This also had the fringe benefit of improving my time management skills by giving me a set deadline when I would stop working.
The next step was to make my environment more conducive to a good night's sleep. At the time, I lived in a dorm so I couldn't make huge changes to the room, but I was fortunate enough to have a single so there were no roommate schedules to work around. I tried to rid my bed and its surrounding area of distractions and dedicate it only to sleep. I moved my laptop from my nightstand to my desk and began using a lamp instead of a bright overhead fluorescent light. I also moved my phone charger out of reach of my bed so that I would not be tempted to constantly respond to texts or check my email. The goal was that once I was in bed, I was able to focus on sleep and sleep alone.
Finally, I stopped sleeping in. For me, this was a huge concession and one that I was not excited about. I savored my weekends as time that I could sleep until noon guilt-free. But I noticed that the later I woke up, the harder it was to get to sleep at night. In order for me to stick to my schedule, I had to sacrifice my afternoon wake-ups.
After committing to my new sleep habits, I began to see a huge change in only a few weeks. I was consistently getting a full eight hours of sleep. It was easier to wake up in the morning and I no longer needed that second cup of coffee mid-morning to get me through the day.
Now I'm on a mini summer vacation for three weeks before I start graduate school, and I've stuck to my sleep resolutions. Grad school will be a whole new adventure, but after seeing what an impact a full night of sleep had on my senior year of undergrad, I'm definitely going to continue to "sleep smart" this year.