Sleepless nights, intrusive thoughts, tired limbs, exhausted mind. If these words sound relatable, you are in the right place. Insomnia has long been one of the most trying of disorders. It affects your life on every single level there is to affect. Although this is a fairly common disorder, it is especially pronounced when it comes to college students. A 2017 study revealed that almost 60% of college students suffered from a poor quality of sleep. A statistic which I can attest to on a deeply personal level, since during the second year of my medical college, sleeping became a privilege.
The lack of sleep made me miserable. Every aspect of my life, ranging from my academics to my memory and to my social life, suffered immensely. I remember breaking down due to how starved for a good night’s rest I was. Fortunately, after months of experimenting and seeking help in all sorts of different ways, I was able to break out of the curse of insomnia and I am going to be sharing with you exactly what helped me finally catch some Zs, so that you can finally get better sleep in your own life.
1. Limit those oddly-timed naps
When a person is already struggling with sleep issues, the worst thing they can do is to exacerbate them by taking oddly-timed naps. Imagine sleeping at 5 am in the morning, waking up at 8 am for your classes, coming back at 3 pm and then taking a nap from 3 pm to 8 pm. Such naps will do nothing to improve your sleeping schedule, if anything they will worsen them. Throughout the day, your internal clock rotates between sleep and wakefulness. This 24-hour sleep-wake cycle is known as our circadian rhythm. With naps at weird hours, we mess with our circadian rhythm and make it harder for ourselves to return to a healthy sleep cycle. Try holding off your sleep if it is overwhelming you at an odd time and save it for a complete night’s rest. This way, not only will you be resetting your sleep cycle back to its normal, but you will also wake up more relaxed and refreshed owing to complete rest instead of one that is broken down into parts.
2. Your dietary habits are your best friends
‘You are what you eat,’ though a cliche, echoes the truth that nutrition is the foundation for good health. Medical research has shown that a high fat and high sugar diet is linked with a poor quality of sleep. Not just that, but various drinks like coffee and wine/beer/whiskey (any form of alcohol really) toy with your sleep as well. Caffeine may linger in the bloodstream for up to six hours after consumption, which is why practically every sleep expert recommends reducing caffeine use in the afternoon and nighttime hours. Interestingly, alcohol has a different effect. Although booze makes you drowsy and helps you fall asleep easily, it adversely affects the quality of your sleep, which leads you to feel unrested and tired when you wake up. Try to keep these dietary facts in mind and incorporate healthy, high-fiber foods like bananas and strawberries into your diet before going to bed.
3. Regular exercise is underrated
Research fellows at Johns Hopkins Center For Sleep have concluded that regular exercise helps one fall asleep more quickly and improves the quality of their sleep. According to available evidence, they state that people who engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise may see a difference in sleep quality that same night. Although the exact mechanism of action behind this phenomenon is not completely understood, the researchers hypothesize that the induction of sleep can be linked to the fact that aerobic exercise causes the body to release endorphins and raises core body temperature. Since the biological response to exercise is different when it comes to different individuals, the timing of the exercise is not carved in stone as to how early or late one should exercise in order to reap the benefit of better sleep. The doctors state that regardless of the time you choose to exercise, your quality of sleep will be improved if you simply exercise daily.
4. Sleeping aids can be life-saving
Trust me when I say this, natural sleeping aids are criminally underrated. Instead of turning to heavy-duty medicines like benzodiazepines, I chose to opt for the natural options first, and they worked wonders. The sleeping aid which I recommend, melatonin, is available over the counter and does not have any significant side effects. Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the pineal gland in the human body and its levels are usually raised during the night time. Darkness triggers its release and its levels remain elevated throughout the night until suppressed by the break of dawn. As a result, melatonin aids in the regulation of circadian rhythms and the synchronisation of our sleep-wake cycle with night and day. This is how it aids in the transition to sleep and supports regular, quality rest. It is by no means a worthy replacement for actual prescription drugs but for mild to moderate insomnia, it is well-established that it helps. Start with the dosage prescribed by your pharmacist and you will most likely notice a positive change in your sleep.
5. CBT-I goes a long way
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is probably the most effective treatment for chronic insomnia which is not put to rest (pun intended) by any of the ways mentioned above. CBT-I is a structured and evidence-based approach which focuses on the relationship between how we think, what we do, and how we sleep. During therapy, a qualified CBT-I clinician assists in identifying thoughts, feelings, and actions that contribute to insomnia symptoms. CBT-I requires some time and effort, but it is proven to help people return to more normal sleep patterns for good instead of acting as a temporary fix like most sleep medication. The therapy plan ranges from 6 to 8 sessions with each session lasting almost an hour or so depending on the patient. Research has shown that almost 70-80% of the people who undergo CBT-I witness marked improvements in their insomnia without the use of medication. So if your sleep issues have been going unresolved for a long time, do consider this promising treatment.
With this, we bring our ‘battle’ to an end. The lack of sleep can really be nerve-wrecking and I’m hopeful that this offers you some valuable insight regarding your sleepless nights and helps you navigate your way through this ordeal.