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By: Jane Shersher, LSW & Founder of Ava Today
Sleep is not just about having a chance to rest from your day. Sleep is when your brain gets to process what it just went through during awake moments, creating new neural synapses. Sleep is a way to protect your heart, kidneys, blood pressure, and blood vessels, and helps to prevent the development of diabetes and stroke.
The typically irregular schedule of a student is likely the worst culprit of poor sleep hygiene. Most researchers say that routine is key for being able to attain sufficiently restful sleep each night. Going to bed and waking up at the same times each day is actually number one for sleep health. But here are other hygiene tips to help you to get and keep those z’s.
Stay away from caffeine as much as possible. Most fancy lattes have a ton of milk and sugar in them, which are not great for your health (poor health can cause spikes in blood sugar which will impact your sleep quality) and coffee is acidic, which basically encourages your body to host disease. If you must drink your coffee, then try to consume it no later than 1pm and try to limit the amount. After 1pm, relying on caffeine can impact when you go to bed, how quickly you fall asleep, and the depth of your REM cycles (which are what help to convert your short term memory into long term memory).
How to Replace Your Unhealthy Coffee Addiction with Healthy Alternatives:
- Maca Powder
Maca is a dried up root from South America that is ground into a fine powder. It will help you to avoid crashing and is a superfood. Maca helps to balance out hormones for both men and women, adds a robust flavor to any smoothie, and provides a consistent energy that will support brain health much more sustainably than coffee. Also you can have it later in the day- consuming maca until around 3 or 4pm would likely not disturb your sleep.
Spirulina is a highly alkalizing powdered dark green algae that balances your brain chemistry and reinforces the quality of your blood by supporting the function of your liver and pancreas. It offers a mega dose of chlorophyll, iron, sulfur, and fatty acids. This blue-green algae also boosts your immune system and helps to speed up healing as well as ridding your tissues of toxins. Most importantly, spirulina provides you with clean energy that doesn’t make you crash like coffee does in the mornings. Take either a couple of tablets throughout the day or better yet, add it into your morning raw, vegan, and gluten free smoothie. Or add it to a ginger lemon cayenne shot to fight the acid and toxins in your body
- Gotu Kola
Gotu Kola helps your brain with being alert and oriented. You can buy it in pill or powder form. It’s a medicinal herb that has been used in healing and health maintenance for thousands of years. Drink it in the morning in place of coffee and avoid having it at night.
- Mint Teas
Mint and herbal teas are naturally caffeine free. Mint tea is also quite healthy for mouth and gut health. A southing cup of this in bed while reading can be quite helpful for aiding in the falling asleep process. And heads up, in the world of teas, Rooibos claims to be caffeine free, but you should know that it has a different chemical in it that can spark alertness, so be careful with the red teas regarding late consumption prior to sleep- they are soothing but still can perk you up, and you don’t want the red teas to stimulate your brain beyond therapeutic levels right before bed.
- Passion Flower
Passion flower supplements help to reduce stress and sometimes induce drowsiness. If you are a restless sleeper or have a hard time falling asleep, this could be your best friend right before bed.
- Hydrate But Not Right Before Bed
Keeping hydrated (8-10 cups of water per day) will help your brain to perform at its peak and maintain the intracellular functions that occur throughout your body. Drinking right before bed is not advisable however, as it causes your body to flush out fluids and minerals, causing you to wake up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and therefore interrupting your cycles of sleep.
Analyzing Your Environment for Sleep:
- Research has alluded to how we light our homes as part of the sleep hygiene process. Dimming lights as nighttime roles around is key. Overhead lights can mimic the sun overhead to our brains, so the retinas end up telling the brain to hold off on producing melatonin, a process which may prevent people from getting sleepy (as melatonin is meant to be produced at night to promote sleep). Lamps that are bellow eye level are therefore usually ideal for the purpose of winding down at home.
- If you can, devote yourself to symbolism: using certain lights during the day for work and others at night for winding down condition your brain to work when its supposed to focus and prepare for sleep when it’s supposed to be turning off. For example, your brain can get conditioned to get sleepy when you turn on your nightstand table lamp for instance if you only turn it on 15 minutes before bed for several weeks in a row.
- Also considering colors and shapes within your living space is crucial. The furniture, walls, and organization of your surroundings has the power to encourage either rest, stress, or hyper arousal regarding colors, images, or materials used… perhaps reading about Feng Shui (https://www.thespruce.com/how-to-feng-shui-your-bedroom-1274334) while you are preparing for bed could be soothing and useful? An example of this topic would resemble ensuring that your bed covers (and bedroom colors in general) are soothing such as pastels or light greens and beiges rather than bright stimulating colors such as hot pink or red or bright blue (these strong colors belong in the kitchen, office, or dining room). No matter how large or small your space is, try to designate areas of your living and work spaces for the appropriate functions that they involve including marking them with colors, objects, and materials that reflect the needs of your performance in the corresponding space whenever possible.
Try to Avoid …
1). Any stimulating conversation an hour before bed
2). Limit screen time (TV, phone, computer, ipad, kindle, etc.) – the blue light tells your brain it should be awake and burns your retina cells.
3). Don’t listen to stimulating music prior to bed, in fact, playing the same sleepy song before bed each day will condition your brain to know its sleep time and fall asleep faster.
4). Try to avoid pressing snooze in the morning, set your alam clock on NPR radio so that you wake up to something interesting and not overly stimulating. Our brains are curious, we often respond positively to a story as an incentive to waking up.
5). Avoid working in your bed at any time of day (no laptop or phone in bed ever). Your bed is designated for sleep and pleasure, your desk is for work and your couch is for leisure. Keep it that way. Blurring the lines of functionality amongst your living spaces will confuse your brain and make it difficult to have any consistent hygiene maintenance.
A Few More Tips…
Play meditation or sleep apps when you are going to bed each night. One app that has been proven to have a great deal of success for sleep is called “Dormio”, which plays a soothing tune with binaural beats under the limits of a timer which you set (when the time hits, the apps turns off without you so you don’t have to get up to turn it off when you’re sleepy). It helps to support your brain waves as they slow down into a sleep state. Remember however not to play the same sounds that you use for sleep while you meditate, as meditation is an active process and you may want to avoid sleeping during the task of meditation.
Unwinding and choosing to reflect upon the day by listing 3 positive things that happened to you that day in a designated journal can be useful considering it’s helpful to have a routine of gratitude reflection that helps you to unwind, reflect, and let go before going to sleep.
Listening to your breathing, putting a hand gently on your gut and the other on your chest to remind your brain that your body is still working- this can help to remind you of the mind body connection and to be grateful for your life and for your day.
When you wake up in the morning, make your bed before you do anything else- ending your sleep portion of the morning by making your bed and starting your day fresh is just as crucial as starting the sleep stage again at night by undoing your bed- it’s a very important symbolic transition from one action of self care and functioning to another and will help you to sleep when you need to and wake up when you need to.
Jacques, N. (2015, February 2). 15 Little-Known Facts About The World’s Most Magical Superfood. mindbodygreen. Retrieved from http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-17285/15-little-known-facts-about-the-worlds-most-magical-superfood.html
National Institute of Health, Department of Health and Human Services (February 22, 2012), Why is Sleep Important? Retrieved from
Tchi, R. (December 29, 2016). How to Feng Shui Your Bedroom. The Spruce. Retrieved from