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Sleep; the ultimate stress management tool

This is an excerpt from Stress Management, by Nanette E. Tummers.


Sleep

The term sleep hygiene may sound weird, but hygiene refers to any consistent practices you do to be healthy. Sleep is the ultimate stress management tool. According to the National Sleep Foundation (2011), we sleep to build and repair cells after all the wear and tear we experience each day. This needs to happen daily, which is why sleeping in on the weekends after days of insufficient sleep is not as healthy as having regular, consistent sleep patterns. Sleep not only helps the body repair itself, but also helps the brain assimilate all the new information we have taken in. If the body is stressed or does not get enough restful, deep sleep (or both), the brain is not able to make new brain cells or neurons. The brain’s ability to make new brain cells is called neuroplasticity (Amen, 2008).

Many students complain that they do not get enough sleep. This results in accidents, hospitalizations, depression, decreased immune function, hormone fluctuations, decreased metabolism, impaired memory and cognitive functioning, and just being cranky (National Sleep Foundation, 2011).

According to a survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation (2011), 67 percent of 19- to 29-year-olds brought their cell phones into their bedrooms and used them during the time they would normally have uninterrupted sleep time. Forty-two percent of the people in this same age group were likely to text during the hour before going to sleep and subsequently did not get restful sleep, resulting in feeling sleepy the next day or driving in a drowsy state. Thirty-eight percent were awakened during their sleep by their phone’s ringer. Respondents also reported less restful sleep following using laptops or computers in their bedrooms to watch videos or surf the net before going to sleep.

Be aware of your sleep and energy cycles. The typical diurnal cycle (i.e., a 24-hour period) is to be most awake during late morning and mid-evening, and least awake during the early morning and at mid-afternoon. One way to stay awake and engaged during the lowest point in the cycle is to do some physical activity.

Here are some tips for helping you get a good night’s sleep:

  • Schedule physical activity to finish four hours before sleep time.
  • Minimize stimulating activities right before bed (arguments, video games, violent movies, texting).
  • Avoid taking naps.
  • Use tools suggested throughout this textbook such as mindful breathing, relaxation, guided imagination, and thought stopping.
  • Design a sleep ritual (as a kid you may have had one that was comforting).
  • Don’t get into bed until you are sleepy.
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Avoid “catching up” on weekends. Use an alarm both to wake you up and to remind you that it’s time to go to sleep.
  • Put worries and your to-do list out of sight. Take time to write down your worries and then make a sincere effort to let them go.
  • Avoid the trap of using alcohol to help you to sleep and caffeine to wake you up. Both can severely interfere with restful sleep.
  • Use sound or music to relax. Sound machines and quiet fans can block out environmental noise.
  • Take a warm shower or bath before bed, and keep your feet warm.
  • Keep your bedroom cool and dark.
  • Use affirmation statements such as I am calm and relaxed.
  • Use your bed for sleeping, not as an eating area or a study space.
  • Expose yourself to natural light during the day.
  • Drink warm milk or soy milk with honey and vanilla before sleep to increase serotonin.
  • Turn off electronics including your TV, computer, and cell phone.

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Sleep Log

This activity involves maintaining a sleep log for one week.

Start

Fill out the log provided in the appendix.

Cues

Try to be as specific as possible in your sleep log. Note any variables that might influence the quality and amount of your sleep including deadlines for classes and using relaxation methods before falling asleep.

Finish

After one week, reflect on the amount and quality of your sleep. Consider setting a goal to change one thing about your sleep habits, such as turning off your cell phone when you go to bed.


Read more from Stress Management, by Nanette E. Tummers.


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