Being a professional student comes with its own special set of challenges. You're most likely not a college student, anymore, with only the responsibility of going to class and then doing whatever for the rest of the day. Professional students often have to balance class, jobs, families, and many other responsibilities that come from being a "real" adult.
Sleep can be one of those things that professional students forgo. Medical students, law students, and many other graduate studies require so many hours of studying, class contact time, and extracurricular activities. This leaves little time for sleep, exercise, smart eating choices, and anything else that can help students be health all around.
However, sleep is essential for optimal functioning. Therefore, it's important to create positive sleep habits so you can work at your highest efficiency. Continue reading for more tips on how to sleep as a professional student.
Schedule your days
When you have a schedule as jam packed as professional students, it's important to schedule your days. Some type A individuals are very good and diligent about scheduling their days. However, they often over schedule themselves, causing their days to run longer than anticipating, leaving little time for sleep.
Those who are not as diligent just sort of float from task to task. This may help them get things done, but not in a very time effective manner, causing them to also have many tasks run late into the night.
Schedule your days where your prioritize sleep. Plan everything else around your sleep schedule and make sleep a non-negotiable. Is this going to be possible every single day? No. But having more days where sleep is a priority than not will do wonders for your sleep health.
Be realistic with your planning, and try to give yourself some structured time. Whether your are Type A or not, having a realistic schedule with time-bound activities can help you be more productive, efficient, and provide you with some urgency to get tasks done during the day so they don't run into the night.
Even if you work better into the night, you may have to adjust your schedule to working more during the day, unless you are able to make up for that sleep in the morning.
Establish a "cut-off" time
When creating your schedule, it's important to create a "cut-off" time, or a time that you refuse to work past. It can be so tempting to say "Just one more page" but that normally leads to another hour of working. This extra hour takes away from your sleep, and is probably a poor hour because you are so tired, you're probably not doing your best work.
Find a time at night where no matter what you are doing, you will be done working. This can be time that you spending with your friends or loved ones. Maybe this is the time where you catch up on your favorite show. Do something enjoyable earlier in the night so you are not subject to revenge bedtime procrastination.
Make this time a non-negotiable and use it as your finish line so you can work really hard to get almost everything on your to-do list complete by then.
Create a night and morning routine
Routines are important for everyone because they help coach your brain to prepare for the next activity. By creating a nighttime routine, you can prompt your brain to get ready for sleep. It will start to recognize a particular set of activities that you do every night before bed. This can influence hormone production so that there is a more consistent release of melatonin, the hormone that helps you go to sleep.
Try to start your nighttime routine at the same time every night, and include activities that can help you relax and prepare for sleep. This can include a warm bath/shower, reading, drinking a cup of tea, meditation, stretching, or spending quiet time with the family.
Your morning routine is just as important. It jumpstarts your day and helps you have a more productive day. The first part of your morning routine is getting up right when your alarm goes off. It's tempting to hit snooze, but that extra 5-60 minutes isn't good sleep, and it's just making you late. Don't lie in bed and scroll on social media as that isn't always the best energy to start your day off with.
Get out of bed, expose yourself to some sunlight, drink a glass of water, and go through your established routine that helps you get your day started. If helpful, write your routine out so you have a constant reminder, or set one of your phone.
Limit caffeine intake
As a professional student, caffeine is essentially a part of the food pyramid. However, having too much caffeine can actually be ruining your sleep. Caffeine is useful as a stimulant early in the morning. The later you try to drink it, the more problems you will have going to bed that night.
Caffeine takes about six hours to clear from the body. Therefore, you should stop drinking it in the early afternoon to give it a chance to mostly clear by the time you are ready to go to bed.
If you are having trouble staying awake, you most likely need to improve your sleep. Then you can try some other energy boosting tactics such as exercising, walking, sunlight or bright light, stimulating music, and simply taking a break from working.
Improve sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene is how you are sleeping, and what you are doing to prepare to sleep. Part of improving your sleep revolves around establishing a good sleep routine. Other parts of improving your sleep hygiene include having a great sleep environment, practicing positive sleep behaviors, and having a good mindset about sleep.
An optimal sleep environment is cool, dark and quiet. If you live in a place with bright lights, then you may want to invest in blackout curtains. If you live in a loud apartment or dorm, then a white noise machine can help you block out some of that extra noise. Saving money is an important part of being a professional student, so cooling your apartment or house may not be cost effective enough for you to want to do it. Fans, or other cooling devices that don't cost much to run can be very helpful in keeping your room at a temperature ideal for sleeping.
Practicing good sleep behaviors is important as well. Do not work in the bed. Your bed should be for sleep and sex only. Studying, reading, checking emails, and just hanging out should be done in other rooms, if possible. You want your room to be associated with relaxation and sleep. Reduce your exposure to blue light and try not to worry or stress while lying in your bed.
Having a good mindset about sleep goes a long way. If you tossed and turned because you were nervous about something, or you struggle with insomnia, then really try to have a positive attitude about sleep the next night. Remove thoughts about the previous night from your mind and put positive thoughts in the air about your ability to get good sleep.
Stress comes with being a professional student. However, if you let that stress overpower you, then it can truly disrupt your sleep, which can make your stress and anxiety even worse. Figure out what helps you destress, and try to do it every day.
If working out helps you reduce stress, find time to do it and make it another one of your non-negotiables. During finals and other high stress times, it can be nearly impossible to find time to work out. But, exercise does wonders for your sleep and stress levels, so it's honestly worth the break.
Meditation is another great exercise for relaxation. There are many different types of meditation, and several guided ones on YouTube. Find one that you really enjoy and play it when you get overwhelmed.
Hanging out with friends and family is also a great way to recharge. Whatever it is, invest in it, at least once a week. It's important to learn how to destress, or else dealing with hardships and inconveniences becomes nearly impossible.
If you are having trouble sleeping, and think the problem may lie much deeper than being a graduate student, then please click the orange button below to take a free online sleep test and talk with one of our sleep health professionals.