I once read that 45% of the world’s population is sleep deprived. In med school I think that number is closer to 100%! As med students our time is spent trying to squeeze as many productive minutes on our studies each day, in a constant and futile battle with mind numbing, energy-sapping fatigue. In my limited experience, I have found that most of the medical students I’ve met are engaged in a frustrating, daily battle, with getting enough quality sleep.
Developing a sleep strategy is essential!
I’ve learned how to go to bed when I’m stressed and overly tired, even though it’s difficult to “shut-off” my brain. When I reach a point when my focus is gone and my productivity drops, I surrender to the need to recharge my emotional and intellectual batteries. Even though I feel the pressure to continue learning, reading and studying there comes a point that sleep is the only option.
Here are a few sleep tips I read, (I am by no means an expert), but this is what works for me:
1. Have a routine. Do the same thing every night so you fall asleep faster. Use this routine during the week as well as on the weekend.
2. Don’t study in your bed. It will confuse your brain and make it more difficult to fall asleep and you’ll find yourself falling asleep while you study.
3. Avoid caffeine in the later afternoon. Caffeine can stay in your body for 3-5 hours, so plan accordingly.
4. Don’t indulge in late night snacking habits after 7pm, for obvious reasons.
5. Put a cap on your electronics usage. I understand wanting to wind down by watching your favorite episode or movie before you crash. Make sure you stop watching mind stimulating movies like, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or Narnia just before you go to bed. If you do it’s no wonder you have trouble sleeping!
6. Late afternoon naps (after 3pm) tend to be disruptive to night-time sleep. Short, mid-day naps are refreshing and don’t tend to disrupt normal sleep patterns. In any case, keep nap time to under 30 minutes.
7. Sleep friendly environments are key. For me, this means pulling the comforter over my head and using ear plugs every night. This way I can’t be disturbed by noisy neighbors and I’m insured quality, deep sleep.
8. Exercise is always a good thing, but not when you’re about to go to bed. You may find it takes longer then you expected to calm down into a sleep-friendly state.
9. Stay away from sleep inducing meds (unless they’re prescribed for you). It’s easy to become dependent on substances like sleeping pills. If you develop a consistent sleep pattern, you won’t need them.