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Sleep Difficulties

Sleep is an essential part of everyday functioning. We not only need sleep for our survival, but adequate sleep helps to regulate mood, cognitive functioning, and physiological functioning. As such, getting sufficient sleep is crucial for mental and physical health. Research shows that most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep consistently each night. Anything less than 7 hours per night can impact your functioning. This means that pulling all-nighters to complete assignments can actually negatively impact academic success. Sleep deprivation can cause:

  • Decreased concentration
  • Poor memory
  • Low energy
  • Decreased motivation
  • Irritability
  • Increased likelihood of headaches or illness
  • Difficulty regulating eating habits
  • Increased likelihood of injuries

Some people experience chronic difficulties with sleep. Chronic sleep difficulties can occur for a number of different reasons, including poor sleep habits, insomnia, or an underlying mental or physical condition that causes insomnia (e.g. anxiety, respiratory problems). Insomnia is a physiological problem with the body’s system for regulating sleep. For most people, insomnia has a physical, mental, or environmental cause, but there are some people who experience a physiological problem with the body’s sleep-regulating system.

If you experience chronic sleep difficulties, it may be helpful to talk to a medical or mental health professional to determine the cause and possible treatments for your sleep difficulties. This is especially true if:

  • You rely on substances to help you sleep
  • You require a lot of caffeine just to stay awake
  • Your chronic sleep problems interfere with school, work, or relationships
  • You go several days without sleeping
  • You snore heavily or stop breathing while asleep
  • You have frequent significant difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • You frequently have nightmares or stressful dreams that interrupt your sleep

Techniques for Developing Good Sleep Hygiene

  • Try to go to sleep at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol late in the day, as they can interfere with sleep.
  • Get regular exercise and finish any rigorous exercise more than 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid all screens an hour before bed. The light from the screens stimulates the brain and body and can make it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Try not to eat any heavy meals within a few hours of bedtime.
  • Use your bed only for sleep or sex. If after 15 minutes, you can’t fall asleep, get out of bed and do something non-stimulating, such as reading, to help you feel tired.
  • Avoid napping during the day. This can make it difficult to fall asleep at night, perpetuating the poor sleep hygiene cycle.
  • Avoid staying up all night- this disrupts your sleep schedule and can be difficult for your body to recover.
  • Make your bedroom comfortable for sleeping by making it dark and quiet (or using a sleep mask and earplugs), adjusting the temperature, and getting comfortable bedding.
  • Avoid falling asleep with the TV or radio on.
  • If racing thoughts impact your ability to fall asleep, try writing down your thoughts.
  • Developing a soothing bedtime routine, such as reading a book, listening to music, practicing relaxation exercises, or taking a bath.
  • If you frequently look at the clock at night, face it in the other direction. Clock-watching can make it more difficult to fall asleep.
  • If your sleep difficulties are due to stress or an underlying mental health concern, the Counseling Center can help you manage these concerns and, thus, improve your sleep through various services. To determine which services may be appropriate, schedule a brief assessment.
  • Contact the UMD Health Center to meet with a physician or psychiatrist to determine any possible physiological causes of your sleep concerns and if medical treatment may be helpful.
  • If your sleep difficulties persist with no underlying cause to treat, it may be helpful to see a sleep specialist or participate in a sleep study.

How to Sleep Better Video
Wellcast video showing 5 easy ways to help get all the sleep you need 

Helping Students Manage Sleep Issues
Dr. Gillihan writes in Psychology Today about college students with sleep concerns

Information about Sleep in College Students
Facts about sleep and info on how to sleep better from the University of Michigan Health System

Advice on Sleep for College Students
Guide to sleep for college students


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