Wellness Blog Series: 10 Tips to Improve Your Sleep

1.     Minimize screen time – Computers provide a vast breadth of information and entertainment but provide a constant drive to do more with the entire internet at our fingers. Although an important tool to study and destress, one must be careful to not overstimulate themselves before bedtime. Taking care of computer work earlier in the day and switching to reading hardcopies later can ease strain on the eyes and help prevent sleeplessness.

2.     Go to bed when you’re tired – Although it appears this is the most obvious advice, many of us push past the signs our body gives us to keep working late into the night. If you don’t feel tired after finishing work for the day it could be because you have forced yourself past the time your body wanted to sleep and have reawakened. A good night’s sleep can reenergize you to pick up the work again in the morning.

3.     Take less caffeine and take it earlier in the day – For those of us who might be more reliant on caffeine to get us through the day it’s important to realize its effects might persist to bedtime. Coffee or other caffeinated beverages should be avoided in the late afternoon or evening. If like me you just enjoy hot drinks try switching out your usual afternoon coffee for decaf or uncaffeinated teas.

4.     Improve the sleeping environment – It’s important that you are comfortable in bed in order to sleep. Darker blinds and ear plugs are ways of reducing light and noise pollution.  Adjusting the temperature to comfortable levels and investing in a pillow that suits your size and posture, are two other ways to a comfier bed.

5.     Exercise – Best done in the morning or early afternoon to wake you up and avoided right before bedtime. Staying active helps with daytime tiredness and problems falling asleep. It can be hard to incorporate the recommended amount of exercise into a busy schedule especially if you’re already feeling tired but the evidence is clear that in the long term getting in that cardio will improve productivity along with its other important health benefits.

6.     Set a schedule and stick to it – Although not always possible due to call, having a consistent sleep schedule can make sleeping through the night easier. Avoiding unnecessary alterations like sleeping in on the weekends, staying up late and then forcibly readjusting back to the work week. Try to notice your tiredness throughout the day and make long term changes. If you have trouble staying awake during the afternoon or have trouble waking up in the morning, these are signs you might need to set aside more time for sleep and move your bedtime earlier.

7.     Manage your stress – Being overly stressed or anxious can lead to difficulties sleeping or poor sleep quality. It’s important to not lay in bed restlessly trying to force yourself to sleep as this just leads to more stress. Some light reading or a not overly stimulating past time can be done until you feel tired.

8.     Seek help if necessary – New onset or worsening insomnia may be precipitated by physical or mental stressors. Problems sleeping following a significant life change or associated with other health concerns may require you to seek help from those close to you or a professional.

9.     Dealing with jet lag – Most of us have or will be flying out for residency interviews, this can mean adjusting to sleeping in a new time zone. There is evidence that taking melatonin close to when you plan to sleep is a safe way of reducing jet lag. Adjusting your bedtime and waking hours to the new time zone before your flight can help ensure you are fully awake and refreshed during your stay.

10.  Pull the all-nighter – As a last case scenario when work has piled up or you just can’t seem to feel tired you might just end up going without sleep for a night. I try to avoid this as much as possible but sometimes you just can’t help it. It’s important you judge if you’re alert enough the following day for any tasks that might be compromised or risky from a lack of alertness. Try to avoid napping during the day and take an early bedtime the following day to reset your schedule.

- Chris Yildiz, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry