Sleep and Stress
The amount of sleep you get, and the amount of stress that you experience on a day to day basis can have a major impact on your health and productivity. Read through the following tips to see how you can maintain a healthy sleep schedule and manage stress.
Some days, in graduate school, sleep may seem next to impossible, but it’s extremely important to maintain an adequate sleep routine in order to perform your best on a daily basis. Researchers say we need at least 8 hours of sleep a night, and that even getting as few as 6 hours a night can greatly reduce our cognitive abilities! What can you do to help your sleep routine, among homework, tests, and work schedules? Read on to find out!
Please note that the information provided on these pages is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice.
Can’t fall asleep? Try these tips:
- Relax. Before going to sleep, do one activity that puts your mind at rest. Dim the lights and try to get your mind to calm down.
- Have a small snack, but don’t eat too much before going to bed. Being either hungry or too full can affect your sleeping patterns.
- Do not consume caffeine or exercise right before bed. Give yourself at least 2 to 3 hours before heading to bed.
- Go to bed at the same time each night, and wake up at the same time every morning. Your body works best with a cycle of rhythms, including a sleep rhythm.
- Try keeping a sleep log to track your sleep patterns.
Why sleep for the full 8 hours? Even partial sleep loss can cause the following:
- Decrease in the effectiveness of your immune system, making you more susceptible to disease and less prepared to fight off an infection.
- Changes in mood, including apathy and irritability, lowered self-esteem, and depression.
- Impaired fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, including quick reflex responses in emergency situations.
- Slowed mental processes, including memory, cognitive reasoning, creative thinking, problem solving and focus.
- Weight gain.
- Decreased athletic performance.
Check out these resources for more information about sleep disorders and more tips on better sleep routines:
National Sleep Foundation: Quick facts about smart sleeping
Template for sleep log
Understanding Sleep: National Institutes of Health
If you’re a graduate student, you don’t need to be told that stress is a serious health issue. Tests, papers, job interviews, financial worries—all of these issues and more affect graduate students on a daily basis. It is important to learn how to deal with stress so that it doesn’t negatively affect your health and life.
Here are some tips on reducing stress, from Middlebury College’s Health Center:
- Avoid caffeine. It will increase you heart rate and stimulate you. If you are in a state of stress, you are already over-stimulated. Caffeine can make it worse.
- Don't use alcohol as a way to reduce stress. Alcohol, even in moderate amounts, will have a negative impact on sleep. It causes shallow non-restorative and fragmented sleep. Although alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and may initially make you feel more relaxed, it has a secondary effect: when the alcohol leaves your system it can cause agitation and leave you feeling restless.
- Try to establish a routine bedtime and stick with it. The body functions on rhythms. It is important not to disrupt the sleep-awake cycle of the body. Get adequate sleep every night. 8 hours is generally recommended.
- Maintain a nutritious diet. Stress can burn up vitamins that you need to stay healthy. Fresh fruit and veggies can help greatly.
- Don't overindulge on sweets. Foods and drinks with a high sugar content will quickly cause changes in blood sugar levels and lead to a feeling of being slowed down, tired, or groggy.
- Set realistic goals for yourself. Overambitious goals are a frequent cause of stress. Prioritize what's on your "to-do" list.
- Get help with time management. Over-scheduling is a primary cause of stress.
- Remember you are human. It's part of human nature to make mistakes.
- Learn to say "no." Sometimes others' requests or expectations of you are unrealistic. Meeting other people's requests at your own expense is stressful and often leads to feelings of resentment.
- Physical exercise (without over doing it) can help reduce stress. Even taking a 20 to 30 minute walk can make a big difference.
- Learn specific stress reduction techniques – deep breathing, guided imagery, and physical stress reduction techniques.
- Talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling.
- Get a massage. This one is self-explanatory.
Check out these time management tips from Boston University’s Student Health Services website:
- Time management can go a long way to help reducing your stress and avoiding procrastination!
- Make a list of tasks to be completed with dates or use a calendar.
- Schedule your tasks by priority and length of time each task will take into time slots (like appointments).
- Complete your schedule at the beginning of every month and week so that you are prepared for each assignment and important date.
- Make sure to schedule in your relaxation time. You will burn out quickly with consistent back to back tasks.
- Label each task as flexible or permanent so with short notice you know which tasks can be changed.
- Is your schedule reasonable? Make sure that your tasks are attainable.
- Set boundaries and learn to say NO. You know what your limits are, try not to overwhelm yourself.