Fit Five: Getting Better Sleep

Fit Five is a column by health science major and USF track sprinter Shannon Gordon. Drawing from her education and experience, Gordon lists five ways to improve health and fitness.

With all of the cramming, late-night studying and partying, getting enough sleep in college seems impossible. We often think we can make up for lost sleep hours by gulping down energy drinks and excess amounts of coffee. However, caffeine cannot make up for the benefits of a good night’s sleep that your body needs.

Without sleep, your mental health declines, your immune system weakens and your physical appearance suffers. Simply changing up your sleep routine and environment can greatly increase sleep time. Here are five natural tips for getting a more restful sleep, and in return a healthier body and a more productive week.

1. Turn off all the lights

Once the day begins to end, your body gives you a headstart on a successful night’s sleep by producing a sleep-promoting hormone called melatonin.

The catch is that real and artificial light slow down the production of the hormone, so for it to successfully work, you need to sleep in total darkness, according to women’s health. Melatonin also works as an antioxidant and it helps reduce stress.

Melatonin supplements are available at local grocery and convenience stores, and if you are having trouble keeping light out of your bedroom, invest in a dark curtain for your windows or a sleep mask.

2. Create a morning routine

Waking up at the same time every day will help create a natural body rhythm, and you will be more likely to fall asleep at the same time every night, too.

However, if you are going to do this, make sure you get up immediately. Open the blinds or turn on the lights to halt the melatonin production and grab yourself a cup of coffee.

By doing this, you will help this natural rhythm set to a specific time. There is no such thing as catching up on sleep, so try to avoid naps and sleeping in late. Doing so will only mess up your sleep schedule and confuse your body’s rhythm.

3. Lower the thermostat

Your body only begins to enter sleep when your body temperature drops, so to reach that perfect temperature, turn your thermostat down several degrees from your usual daytime temperature.

However, make sure you have enough blankets to keep warm. Colder air may calm your body, but your body will not stay restful if you are tossing and turning with your sheets to keep your body warm.

You can also speed up this temperature drop by taking a hot shower or bath right before lying down for bed or by working out in the early evening.

4. Block out noise

Outside noise can often distract you from falling asleep or wake you in the middle of the night.

Playing your iPod on shuffle while you sleep can be distracting, and listening to relaxing music with 60 to 80 beats per minute may help relax your body. You could also invest in a sound soother or a fan. Waterfalls, white noise and thunderstorms are loud enough to drown out outside noise, but they are neutral enough not to wake you. Eventually your body tunes out the noises because of the repetition in their sound.

5. Turn off your mind

Another unfortunate side effect of not getting enough sleep is that we often stress over our lack of sleep. When we finally get the chance to go to bed early, we may lie in bed for hours tossing and turning worrying about how we can’t sleep.

Try relaxing your mind right before sleep by doing light stretching or easy yoga poses.

If you lie down and your mind is still wandering, try deep breathing and focus on your breath instead of your thoughts.