Why is it so important to get a good night's sleep?

For our whole lives, we've heard how important a good night's sleep can be. Here are some reasons why, especially for college students:

  • The brain cannot put information learned in an "all night study session" into long term memory. It may be there for an exam the next day (short term memory), but will have to be re-learned for the final exam. Good quality sleep actually aids in storing learned information into long term memories.
  • Sleep debt (lack of adequate sleep for a few nights in a row) can lead to a decrease in daytime function, when all classes and learning take place
  • Lack of sleep can weaken the immune system. With close quarter living on college campuses, one may be more susceptible to the "germs" that are in the college community.
  • Lack of sleep can affect mental health leading to increased tension, depression, confusion, and lower life satisfaction. Mood changes are also common.
  • Evidence proves that students who are sleep deprived perform significantly worse than students who get a good night's sleep on a regular basis.

How much sleep is enough?

Most of us need about 8 hours of sleep per night, consisting of both "deep sleep" and "dream sleep." The actual number of hours may vary from person to person, but if one has good quality sleep and feels alert and rested during the day, sleep has probably been adequate.

What can I do to make falling asleep easier?

  • Relax your mind. Evening activities such as reading, watching TV, or even making a list of things you need to do (thus getting it off your mind!) can help slow things down making it easier to fall asleep.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine (stimulants) and alcohol (leads to low quality sleep and frequent awakenings) in the evening
  • Increase physical activity. Exercise (20-30 min per day) enhances sleep, but not right before bedtime as it can make one more alert.
  • Limit any daytime naps to less than 30 minutes (set an alarm!) as they can make you drowsy and interfere with a good quality sleep at night
  • Create a regular sleep routine. Going to bed at the same time every day can enhance good quality sleep and increase daytime alertness.

What about medication?

There are prescription and over the counter sleep aids available, but there are concerns on becoming dependent on those (increased drowsiness, confusion, limited effectiveness). There are also some natural choices one can consider as well:

Tryptophan, an essential amino acid that is known to have a calming influence, is found in protein-rich foods and dairy products. Honey (or other carbohydrates) and vitamin B (especially B6) help the body absorb tryptophan.

Calcium is also a natural calming agent and is plentiful in dairy products.

Another calming option is herbal tea, especially chamomile, lemon verbena, lemon balm, passion flower, peppermint, and red clover. Some herbal supplements have been suggested to help with sleep, but have not undergone studies to evaluate their true effectiveness or safety.

Finally, melatonin is a natural hormone your body produces at night. Melatonin supplements have been found to improve sleep in a certain percentage of cases.

Consultation with a health care provider is recommended, and any supplements one chooses to take, over the counter or natural, should be disclosed to a provider to ensure interactions with other medications is not an issue.

If you'd like to discuss any issues with sleep, please give us a call at the health center.

Brown University Sleep