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Feb. 13, 2009

Sleep On It, Smith College Wellness Director Says

Hear Wellness Director Emily Nagoski talk about her role.

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – How-to tips on “pulling an all-nighter” are as abundant on the Internet as high-boost caffeine drinks at the convenience store checkout counter.

But in scientific studies the findings are clear: Sleep quality and quantity are closely related to students’ academic performance and capacity to learn.

Smith College Education Wellness Director Emily Nagoski is trying to counter bad behaviors by promoting healthy sleep habits in forums for students. Here are some of her tips for healthy sleep:

1.  Remember the Big 3: Cool, dark and quiet

The ideal sleep environment is a little on the cool side, as dark as you can make it, and quiet. If there's light you can't block out, consider using an eye mask. If there is noise you can't control, give earplugs a try. It might take a little time to get used to these things, but they could help in the long run.

2.  Learn your circadian peaks

You'll have a peak in the morning and another in the afternoon/evening. Make the most of these times by scheduling your schoolwork into them. Your mid-day dip and middle-of-the-night sleepiness are not ideal times for producing brilliant work. College students tend to have later circadian cycles than children or older adults, so many will find that 10 p.m. is a great time for work, whereas 8 a.m. can be disastrous. It doesn't matter what time works best for you; what matters is using your best times most effectively.

3.  If you don’t fall asleep within 30 minutes, get up and do something relaxing.

Healthy sleepers take about 10 to 20 minutes to fall asleep. Most often, not being able to fall asleep is a product of worry. Lying there tossing and turning will only make you anxious and prevent you from falling asleep. If you've got something specific that you're afraid you'll forget tomorrow, turn on a light and write it down. You can read the note in the morning and be reminded. If you have general worry, get up and read something for fun, watch a little mind-numbing TV, meditate, fantasize about lying on a beach or other relaxing place, and generally let your brain drift quietly for 10-20 minutes.

4.  Keep naps either brief (less than 40 minutes) or long (1.5 to 3 hours)

A sleep cycle is about an hour and a half long, so if you wake up after 40 minutes, you have to drag yourself up out of the deepest phase of the sleep cycle, which can leave you feeling groggy. A 20-minute refresher is ideal, or else go “whole hog” with a full sleep cycle - or even two, if you're really sleep deprived.

5.  Stop drinking coffee 5 hours before bedtime

A lot of college students think they have a high tolerance for caffeine, but you might be surprised at how much more soundly you sleep if you avoid caffeine before bed.

Smith College educates women of promise for lives of distinction. One of the largest women’s colleges in the United States, Smith enrolls 2,800 students from nearly every state and 62 other countries.


Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Kristen Cole
Media Relations Director
T (413) 585-2190
F (413) 585-2174

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