There’s a saying that when it comes to good grades, a social life and sufficient sleep, you can only choose two. Last quarter, when I took 20 units of classes and was involved in two shows (24-hour Musical and Titanic: the Musical), I really started to appreciate the importance of sleep. There were days when I was too tired to focus in class or have fun with my friends. My grades and social life suffered.
So I interviewed Dr. Chris Colwell, a UCLA neuroscientist who specializes in the physiology of sleep. He told me we all have a kind of clock inside of us that helps our body get to sleep at night and get up in the morning. This built-in “clock” is called the circadian cycle. He offered me some helpful tips for maintaining my circadian cycle.
1) Clear your mind
Stress is a huge inhibitor of sleep. If you’re mentally reciting the names of a bunch of organisms for tomorrow morning’s Life Sciences quiz, that’s going to stop you from sleeping. Staying too mentally active keeps you awake, so relax before you go to bed.
2) Take a nap for 20 to 30 minutes
Long naps may affect your ability to sleep at night, but short naps that last twenty to thirty minutes may keep you alert and energized.
3) Avoid certain types of drugs, drinks and food that may inhibit sleep
According to UCLA physicians who specialize in sleep studies, certain drugs may disturb your sleep. These include nasal decongestants, aspirins and any medicine, such as allergy medicine, that contains caffeine and antihistamines. Lastly, liquids take about one to two hours to process through your body, so don’t drink too much before going to bed. If you do, you might have to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.
Colwell also said it’s important to avoid eating too late at night. “If you eat pizza a few times a week at 3 a.m., your body will start anticipating the late-night pizza,” Colwell said. You won’t be able to sleep until you satisfy your cravings.
4) Aim to eat foods that aid sleeping
First of all, you should not rely on medication or other sleep aid drugs to help you sleep. These may become addicting and eventually unreliable after growing tolerance. Many foods, such as milk, bananas, turkey, yogurt, crackers and peanut butter contain a chemical called tryptophan, which aids sleeping, so grab a few bites (definitely not an entire meal) before bed.
“Regular exercise boosts the circadian cycle, especially during the day,” Colwell said. “Exercise releases a number of chemicals inside the body to reset the clock.” However, he said you should not exercise any later than three hours before bedtime. After you exercise, your body temperature is high and you may have trouble falling asleep until it lowers.