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Anxiety and sleep: Tips to get back to normal – CU Boulder Today

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Right now many of us are still adjusting to major changes to our way of life. As we prepare for finals and establish new routines, our sleep may be impacted more than usual. Whether you’ve found yourself sleeping in later, taking more naps, staying up late or fighting anxious thoughts, irregular sleep habits can negatively impact our lives.

Research shows that sleep is vital for our mental and physical health. In fact, getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night can make a difference in our mood, metabolism, memory, immune function and more. Whether you’re feeling anxious from COVID-19, finals or both, here are some tips to help you make the most of your sleep schedule. 


If you’re having trouble sleeping

As we adjust to changes, you may find yourself losing sleep or experiencing insomnia. This can be due to anxiety, lack of structure or impacts to your daily routine or schedule. Here are some tips that can help you get a better night’s sleep. 

  • Watch your caffeine. Caffeine can stay in your system for about eight hours, so it’s best to finish your last cup of coffee in the early afternoon. If you’re craving an afternoon pick-me-up, opt for decaf or find an alternative like flavored waters.
     
  • Stay active earlier in the day. Adrenaline from a good workout increases your alertness, which can be great for boosting your energy and motivation during the day. However, it can also have a negative impact on your sleep if you workout at night. Try to finish your workout at least three hours before bed. If you need to move your body, consider stretching or follow a relaxing yoga routine. The Rec Center is currently offering free virtual fitness classes, including meditations, stretches and group fitness.
     
  • Put your phone away. Set down your phone or turn on night mode at least one hour before you plan to go to bed. Blue light from electronics can interrupt your body’s natural ability to produce melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. Putting your phone on ‘do not disturb’ mode during the night can also prevent sleep disruption from late night notifications.
     
  • Monitor your media consumption. If you feel anxious or worried after reading the news or scrolling through social media, take a mini vacation from your accounts. Turn off notifications from news and social apps to lessen the temptation to check your phone. If you want to stay informed, set up a timer for 10 minutes in the morning to get caught up. Otherwise, try to avoid reading articles and posts before bed. Instead, opt for a feel-good book or podcast you enjoy to help you feel more at ease.
     
  • Create a relaxing environment. Only use your bed for relaxing and resting, adjust the temperature to keep things cool, try a fan or white noise app to minimize distracting sounds and make sure your room is dark so your internal clock knows it’s bedtime. You can also use essential oils (like chamomile or lavender) in a diffuser to help you relax.
     
  • Don’t force it. If you find yourself lying in bed for twenty minutes and still can’t sleep, don’t worry. Sometimes our systems need additional cues to settle in. When this happens, it’s time to get up, do a low-key activity (like reading a book) for another twenty minutes and then try going to bed again. Don’t force yourself to lie in bed until you fall asleep—this can actually increase stress and make it harder to fall asleep.

If you’re sleeping more than usual

While some of us may have difficulty sleeping, others may find themselves sleeping more than usual. You may be experiencing hypersomnia if you are taking frequent naps during the day, having difficulty waking up in the morning, sleeping through your alarm, feeling groggy throughout the day or feeling the urge to sleep more often. This can be caused by a variety of factors, including boredom or depression. Here are some tips to help you get your sleep schedule back on track.

  • Look at your sleep patterns. When are you sleeping? How long are you sleeping? What do you notice about your habits? Once you’ve identified things that may be impacting your sleep, it may be easier to set up systems to help you get back into a regular rhythm. For instance, if you find yourself staying up later at night and sleeping during the day, try to work your way to an earlier bedtime. It can be helpful to take it slow by going to bed 15 to 30 minutes earlier each night until you find a bedtime that works for you.
     
  • Set a schedule. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning. Try setting a normal nighttime routine to jumpstart this habit. For instance, you may want to set an alarm on your phone as a cue that it’s time to get ready for bed. Take a relaxing shower, stretch, read a book or choose another calming activity to help you wind down for the day before heading off to bed.
     
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine. Drinking too much, too frequently and too close to bedtime can undermine quality sleep. Save caffeinated beverages for the morning or early afternoon and try to avoid using alcohol as a sleep aid. If you’re craving a pick-me-up later in the evening, opt for decaf or find an alternative like flavored waters.
     
  • Don’t deprive yourself. Running on too little sleep can cause us to overcompensate for lost energy. This can lead to a cycle of sleep deprivation and oversleeping that can take a toll on our physical and mental health. As we approach finals, avoid pulling all nighters or waiting until the last minute to finish assignments. Instead, give yourself plenty of time to work through projects so you can get adequate rest at the end of the day. This will help you retain more information and stay focused.

If you’re still struggling

Changes in sleep patterns can be a side effect and early warning sign of depression. Let your doctor or therapist know if you are not able to sleep or if you are sleeping too much. 

Students can schedule a virtual visit with Counseling & Psychiatric Services (CAPS) by calling 303-492-2277. To connect with local counseling services, visit colorado.thrivingcampus.com. CAPS is also offering a free virtual workshop for anxiety reduction that’s available online. 

Health Promotion also offers a variety of services to students that may help to improve your sleep habits. Students can schedule a virtual meeting with a Peer Wellness Coach to create a personalized schedule, self-care plan and more. Health Promotion is also offering a free virtual Self Care Health Hut on April 21. You can also check out their mindful meditations online

The Rec Center is offering free online meditations and stretching routines to help you relax, refresh and reset throughout the day. 

It may also be beneficial to use free apps like CBT-i Coach to track your sleep. These kinds of apps can help you develop better sleep habits, improve your sleep environment and learn techniques to alleviate insomnia.

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