Saturday, September 23, 2023

Do you need to get better sleep at night?


Now that the school year has started, sleep schedules need to be adjusted to accommodate the school day, and Reilly White at Notre Dame Prep in Towson, Maryland, has some good advice that might help students sleep better at night in the school’s student newspaper.

“With hours of homework, studying, extracurriculars, and other commitments, it can be difficult to get eight hours of sleep each night,” she writes. “Nevertheless, there is a way to not only improve your sleep quantity but your sleep quality as well.”

Her advice has three prongs:

  1. Don’t eat right before bedtime.
  2. Gradually dim the lights leading up to bedtime.
  3. Don’t use your phone late in the evening.

Not eating right before bedtime

In general, avoid eating food, especially heavy food, too close to bedtime. Some advice says your last meal should be at least one or two hours before bedtime, while other advice puts the time at two to three hours.

In addition, try to limit spicy foods, as these can cause heartburn and make you even more uncomfortable as you lie down to go to sleep.

Developing a sleep-wake routine, even on weekends

Many students fail to realize how important it is to develop a routine for bedtime, including setting consistent times for going to bed and waking up.

This is related to Reilly’s second suggestion of dimming the lights, as this can be an important part of a consistent bedtime routine. Avoid doing any stimulating activities like homework right before bed. This can be difficult for high school students, but some downtime between studying and going to bed can help with sleep. And using this downtime to dim the lights will also help save energy, Reilly points out.

Keeping screens away

There’s not really a rule as to when you should put down your phone before bed. “This advice is all over the place in terms of what we recommend,” says Dr Michelle Drerup, a sleep medicine expert at the Cleveland Clinic. “Some people say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t use it an hour before bedtime or two hours before.’ But most of the research on this issue has really been done in children. We have strong evidence in that group that media use and technology before bed can lead to poor sleep.”

Generally, though, you’re doing well if you can put your devices away an hour or two before bed. That includes not just phones but also other devices and electronics. Even tablets and TVs can harm your sleep.

The main reasons, she says, is that content keeps your mind engaged and may cause emotions to spike—all of which is bad for sleep. The blue light your phone emits can also affect your internal body clock and throw off your circadian rhythm, but the effect is somewhat variable: Research shows that people who use their phones only briefly don’t experience as strong an internal clock disruption as those who use their phones for more than two hours.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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