Trying to get your Freshman 8 is never easy in college living quarters. Why? Lots of reasons:
- You now have a new roomie
- You have a boatload of new electronics
- You now live with a few hundred of your new best friends who likely have a different bedtime
- You mostly likely have an irregular eating schedule
- And of course you have a brand new twin extra long bed, which is probably only six inches thick
So what is a college student to do? A dorm room makeover, of course!
Sleep is a sensory experience, and an in-depth consideration of the five senses is a great way to evaluate your bedroom and create the ideal sleep environment. The senses have a hierarchy based on their effect on your ability to get a great night's sleep. They are as follows, from the sense with the greatest impact to the sense with the least:
1. Sight (light)
What we see significantly affects how our other senses process information and respond. Sight directly affects the circadian pacemaker, which tells you what time to sleep and what time to wake.
Quick Tip: Proper placement of your bed should take the windows and any streaming light from natural (i.e., the sun and moon) to unnatural sources (lamps and street lights) into consideration. You'll also want to limit the total wattage of light you have in your bedroom at night. During the evening hours try to have no more than a total of 300 watts of light on, and while you're trying to wind down for sleep be sure no one source of light emits more than 65 watts. Use a book light for studying or reading in bed right before going to sleep. But REMEMBER -- candles and sleep are a definite NO-NO. And you're probably not supposed to have them in the dorm anyway, right?
Sound rings in as the second most important variable to creating a good sleep environment. Your brain can still process information while sleeping and your hearing actually becomes more accurate since your eyes are no longer providing stimuli for your brain to process.
Quick Tips: Consider music -- nature and ocean sounds can help with relaxation and sleep. Consider white noise machines. Some companies specialize in "sound conditioners" that drown out noise. Consider ear plugs. Check your alarm clocks: If you and your roommate wake up at different times, consider a vibrating alarm clock that fits in your pillowcase so it doesn't disturb your roommate. Or attach pillow speakers to the alarm clock for your ears only.
How you feel physically while in the comforts (hopefully) of your dorm room has a major influence on your ability to sleep well.
Quick Tip: Bring your pillow from home. But make sure it is the right pillow for proper head and neck support. Also consider a mattress topper to help customize your new sleep surface. I like the ones that are zoned for better support. The mattress on your dorm bed is not likely to provide the best support or comfort without some help.
Your olfactory system is one of the most influential sensory parts of the body. It's also one of the oldest and most vital components of the brain; scents stimulate your command center for emotion, motivation, and memory.
Quick Tip: Be careful not to over-odorize your bedroom, but if smell is a problem consider aromatherapy. Recent studies have offered evidence that aromatherapy can not only lift your spirits, but possibly reduce anxiety, agitation and even pain -- all good effects for inducing sleep. Specifically, consider relaxing smells such as lavender, rose and chamomile. For safety reasons, never light aroma candles (remember, candles and sleep = not a good combo). Use sprays, powders or even fresh flowers (if no one is allergic).
Eating too close to bedtime can be a major cause of insomnia and troubled sleep. If your digestive tract is trying to process food while you're attempting to settle into a long and cozy slumber, your body might find it difficult to conduct these two competing tasks.
Quick Tip: Experiment with the timing of your meals and snacks before bedtime to see what works best. Avoid large meals within three hours of bedtime. A good small snack just before bed is a complex carbohydrate with a little protein plus calcium, such as a piece of whole wheat toast with a thin slice of low-fat cheese on top. The lactose intolerant can choose peanut butter as a topping, so long as they stay within 200 calories for the entire snack. And be careful about any caffeinated foods and beverages close to bedtime.
Any finally, a few quick ideas for sleeping in cramped quarters:
- Position your bed in way that signifies it is part of its own entity or room. Consider the use of a room divider or screen.
- Decorate the area around the bed differently than the rest of the room. It should visually stand out. Use cool, calming colors and textures (blues, greens and purples).
- Splurge on good bedding materials that are comfortable for you.
- Install low-wattage lights anywhere near the bed or add dimmers to all the switches, and again set the mood for sleep 2-3 hours before you retire.
- Position your entertainment, television and/or computer area so it's not directly aligned with your line of vision when you're in bed. Consider the use of covers for the monitor and turning off the CPU itself.
- Face the bed to the west if possible so that you don't get direct sunlight in the morning.
Sleep enough, win a trip to New York! Enter HuffPost College's Freshman 8 sleep contest today!
Take the Freshman 8 pledge, and participate on Facebook!
Follow Dr. Michael J. Breus on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thesleepdoctor