1. Set a routine and stick to it
As you settle into the new semester and develop a new routine, be sure to introduce a solid bedtime routine as well. Going to sleep and waking up around the same time every day can be extremely beneficial because your body gets used to set rhythms. I know this can be difficult with homework assignments and other distractions, but try to make use of various resources that remind you when to hit the hay such as settings on your phone or apps to alert you of an approaching bedtime.
2. Limit screen time and blue light exposure before bed
We have all heard this a million times, but do we follow this rule? Probably not. However, with online school and the ever-tempting world of social media, we need to establish solid boundaries between ourselves and our screens before bedtime. If you can’t avoid screens and blue light altogether, consider purchasing blue light glasses — which are fairly inexpensive on Amazon — or adjust your device's settings to dim your screen. Also, the CDC states that exposing yourself to white light during the day can help you to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. So, if possible, open your blinds and turn on the lights throughout the day to prepare for a sound sleep at night.
3. Use a noise machine or play relaxing sounds
Personally, the best thing that ever happened to my sleep quality was getting a white noise machine. It perfectly blocks out noise from other rooms, and it drowns out the noise inside my head as well. If you can’t afford to invest in a noise machine, you can always opt for a regular fan to produce the white noise. Also, there are several online services and apps that provide relaxing sounds — ranging from Headspace to Calm to ASMR videos on YouTube.
4. Try mediation to quiet your mind
Similar to using sounds to distract yourself, meditation is also an option to quiet your mind and settle into a sleepy state for a good night’s rest. Headspace and Calm both provide mediation guides to talk you through the meditative process, which is especially helpful if you are new to the practice. Meditation allows you to get in touch with your body and notice how you are feeling and where your body is tense. Releasing this tension and getting grounded settles you in a way that would otherwise be difficult to reach with distractions all around you. Also, the benefits of meditation can be reinforced by incorporating it into a regular nighttime routine.
5. Journal before bed
If you’re anything like me, the thing that prevents you from falling asleep and staying asleep is the never-ending train of thought barrelling through your mind. One way to counter this overwhelming bedtime occurrence is to journal before bed — simply write out your thoughts, anxieties and plans for the next day to ensure that your mind is settled. Also, keep a journal next to your bed so that if you wake with a sudden thought or something you need to remember for the following day, you can write it down and return to your peaceful slumber.
6. Be active throughout the day
Getting regular activity is crucial to a good night’s sleep. Keep in mind that being active doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hit the gym. Instead, being active can mean getting up and walking around your apartment or house or taking a trip to the mailbox. Odds are with online school you are exercising your mind plenty, but your body needs to use energy just as much. Some fun ways to be active include taking a walk around Grounds, playing “Just Dance” with your roommates or jumping rope. I know it seems like I’m telling you to channel your inner kid — but if that’s what it takes to get a good night’s sleep, then so be it.
7. Do a peaceful activity to calm yourself down
Another tactic that might help you to fall asleep and stay asleep is doing a peaceful — and perhaps mindless — activity like reading a book, doing puzzles or playing word games. In addition to settling yourself for bed, these activities can help to exercise your mind and help with skills like focus, critical thinking, problem-solving and memory. I recently purchased "The Ultimate Brain Health Puzzle Book for Adults," and I find that it is very helpful in preparing me for bed.
8. Limit caffeine intake
As a caffeine lover, this is always hard to hear. However, limiting caffeine intake doesn't always mean you need less caffeine. Instead, limiting how late you consume caffeine may be the key to contributing to a better night’s rest. Caffeine affects everyone differently, so pay attention to your body’s response to caffeine and set a time limit that works for you. As a general rule, the effects of caffeine last for about five hours, so keep that in mind when creating your caffeine intake schedule. If you find that you are craving a caffeinated beverage after your time limit, try a bedtime tea as a substitute. These teas will curb your hot drink craving with the added benefit of helping you prepare for bed!
9. Treat yourself to a new pillow, set of sheets or blanket
External factors contribute to the quality of sleep just as much as the internal factors of your body and mind. If you feel that your quality of sleep is being compromised by external discomfort, splurging on a new pillow or blanket may be the thing to set you at ease and help you drift into a peaceful slumber. With this solution, research is crucial to determine what is affecting your sleep and what options are available to solve the issue — so try to pay attention to what is uncomfortable and hurting your chances of good sleep.
10. Recognize when home remedies aren’t sufficient
If you’ve tried all these techniques and things still aren’t working out for you, consider seeing a specialist that can help determine where the problem is occurring. This is especially important if the lack of quality sleep is beginning to affect your day-to-day life. Reach out to the Student Health Center or contact your primary care doctor to talk through the issue you are having and find a solution that suits you. Everyone needs and deserves quality sleep, so taking this step to ensure you are treating your body well is an essential act of self-care.