Eva Lantsoght is a PhD Candidate in Structural Engineering at Delft University of Technology and blogs about academia and concrete research on PhD Talk. You can follow her on twitter at @evalantsoght.
In a previous post, we explained you why cutting back on sleep is never a good idea in graduate school. Hopefully, you will take action and start protecting your sleeping schedule as your most important productivity-refreshing time of the day.
If all the stress of graduate school becomes too much, sleeping might become a problem and insomnia might start to hold you within its claws.
To help you achieve deep, sound sleep every night, we've compiled a list of 18 ways to help you improve your sleep:
- Exercise regularly. Move away from the books, and try to break a sweat - every single day. You don't need a major cardio workout every day, but some activity is necessary to make sure that both your body and mind are tired enough for you to sleep. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk or bike home and do some sun salutation when you can't find the time to work out.
- Do not exercise two to three hours prior to sleeping. Exercise tires your muscles, but revs you up mentally, and causes your body temperature to rise. Late afternoon workouts are ideal. When you are in graduate school, you have a lot of freedom over your schedule, so do get that afternoon workout in (15 minutes a day is already good!).
- Avoid or cut down on caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco; These chemical substances interfere with your body's ability to rest.
- Plan your next day at the end of your work day. Don't start going over all that needs to be done tomorrow when you try to fall asleep. If you want to review your past day before sleeping, write in your journal and keep gratitude and success lists.
- Don't overeat at dinner. Eat at least three hours before your bedtime, as a full stomach will make it more difficult to sleep. Try to take it easy on the carbs in the evening.
- Declutter your bed. While it's recommended to turn our bedrooms into peaceful retreats, without electronics, for optimum sleep, chances are that in graduate school your bedroom is your living room and your office and storage all at once. At least, try to keep your bed free of clutter and your little tiny place of deep relaxation.
- Set a bedtime ritual. Prepare yourself mentally for sleeping: burn a candle, listen to soft music, journal, read a book... whatever helps you ease into sleep.
- Create your own sunset. An hour before sleeping, bring down the lights in your room. You can also use the sunset function on a wake-up light alarm clock.
- Breathe deeply. Stress can interfere seriously with your sleep. Try to let go by breathing deeply in your abdomen, or meditate.
- Lavender oil. Use a scented candle or essential oil of lavender to help you relax. You can also add a few drops of lavender oil to a hot bath to create your calm space.
- Drink warm milk or herbal tea. Drinking warm milk (or a hot chocolate) or warm herbal tea before going to bed helps set your body up for sleep. The amino acid tryptophan in milk may be responsible for helping you sleep, as it increases the serotonin levels in the brain.
- Go to bed at the same time every night (ideally before 10pm), when your body secretes the hormone melatonin. While the opinions are divided on what the ideal bedtime is, and if there is a general ideal bedtime or if its personal, most health and fitness websites recommend to sleep between 9pm and 10pm, and it's a common Dutch saying that "the hours before midnight count double".
- Play white noise. You can use a white noise generating app on your phone. These sounds might help block out the busy campus and dorm sounds that make it difficult to fall asleep once you start paying attention to them.
- Warm your feet in winter. Get some loose sleeping socks or a hot water bottle, as cold feet can keep you awake.
- Sleep in a dark room. Too much light into your room will interfere with the secretion of melatonin.
- Use a sleeping mask. If those dormroom blinds have all the streetlight entering your bedroom, then invest in a quality sleeping mask. I swear by my Tempur sleepmask.
- Keep the temperature low. The ideal room temperature for sleeping is rather low. Some experts recommend 12 degrees Celsius (54 F), others between 60 - 65F. If possible, leave your window ventilation open for fresh air, even in winter.
- Hug a pet. While some experts claim that pets should never sleep with you, because they can move at night and wake you up, the peaceful purring or deep breathing of a pet can help you relax.
Do you have any suggestions for getting better sleep? Let us know in the comments below.