Sleeping dog

The importance of sleep

Waking up from a good nap or, better yet, a full night’s rest feels good. The reason it feels so refreshing and invigorating is because it is. Your body needs to sleep to help it recharge and run through some necessary functions. But it’s not always as easy as hitting the hay every night and sleeping until tomorrow. You have things pulling at your time, energy and mindset that could make sleep more difficult. Whether these stressors are holding you back from falling asleep or making it hard to find the time in your schedule to make it count, we can help. 

We spoke to sleep expert and professor Lynda Mae, a social psychologist and principal lecturer in ASU’s Department of Psychology. Mae has worked in and researched sleep patterns and the effects of sleep on our brains extensively. We’re sharing her advice on the importance of sleep, plus her strategies for helping you catch all the zzzs. 

What you do before bed matters

Yes, this is where we tell you to get off your phone. Dark mode, night shift or night mode in your phone’s setting can help to reduce your phone’s glare, but blue light isn’t the only issue with staring into your phone before bed. You also may be stimulating your brain with whatever you’re looking at (TikTok isn’t exactly soothing). Mae recommends avoiding things like stimulating exercise or staring at your bright phone or tablet screen for at least three hours before going to sleep. If you’re really struggling to fall asleep, try some deep breathing exercises (shown in the video below) or light yoga. 

You may need more than eight hours

Professor Mae recommends that adults get between seven and nine hours of continuous sleep per night. The “continuous” part is key — you need to let your body fall into REM sleep, where your brain can process negative emotions and stimulate areas of your brain that help with learning.

If you feel like you need even more sleep than what’s recommended, you may need to move more. Mae says that sitting at a desk all day staring at your computer (which many of us are doing these days) can cause you to feel more tired than you really are. She recommends working movement into your schedule. Try adding bursts of exercise into your breaks (remembering that you should stop any vigorous exercise within three hours of your bedtime), or try Mae’s favorite way to move, taking a sunrise hike up “A” Mountain.

Finding the time to snooze

When you’re making a change to improve your sleep schedule, it all comes back to time management. Adding the full recommended timeline for a nightly sleep session can feel like a lot to work into your schedule if you’re used to sleeping only six or seven hours a night. But rest assured, it will be worth it. Read this post on time management for a few tips on how and where to find the time you need to get a good night’s rest. 

And if you do miss some sleep, Mae is in full support of taking naps to make up the zzzs you’ve missed. But she urges students to keep naps to a half hour or an hour at most so it doesn’t interrupt your nightly sleep going forward. 

Glorifying anti-sleep culture

The next time you hear someone brag about pulling an all-nighter or staying up until 4 a.m. studying for a test, know that that is not how to set yourself up for success. Lack of sleep can interfere with your cognitive performance, problem-solving skills and attention to detail (not things you want to be lacking come exam time). So if you got your full 8.25 hours, you can rest easy going into your exams (as long as you studied in advance), knowing your brain is ready to work. 

In fact, according to Mae, getting adequate sleep affects not just your physical health but your cognitive functioning psychological health as well. That means not getting enough sleep can negatively affect your problem-solving and brain functions, as well as higher-level functions like learning and memory.

Getting more sleep will help you feel more engaged in class and be better mentally prepared for exams, and will put you, on average, in a better mood. That’s what we call a win-win-win. For more information on sleep, check out the resources offered by Live Well @ ASU.

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