The Flourish, March 2022
Supporting the well-being of all students at Stanford
March is National Sleep Awareness Month! This month, we reflect on our sleep habits by defining what it means to get good sleep and how we can build our “sleep hygiene”. How does nutrition and exercise impact our sleep? How can we improve our sleep through movement? How does sleep impact our mental health and well-being? If you’ve been feeling sluggish, find some answers in the month's edition. Discover ways to improve the quantity and quality of sleep you get and find the right sleep tips and resources for you. Remember, Zzzs get degrees!
The Flourish, March 2022
The goal of this communication tool is to support all Stanford students and their well-being.
Let’s explore these areas together.
Are you getting good sleep?
Ahhhh, a good night's sleep can feel life-giving, why must it so often elude us?! Sleep’s cultural caché has increased in the last decade as a too-fast, too-stimulating, too-much world has shown us what it is like to be chronically unrested. Ok, so what goes into “healthy” or “good” sleep? Maybe you’ve heard about an optimal number of hours to sleep each night, but there are many more variables that go into healthy sleep than solely accumulated eyes-closed time.
Sleep hygiene, you heard of it? No, it’s not washing your hands for 20 seconds before you go to bed (that’s the COVID talking). Sleep hygiene is really a pattern of sleep behaviors that can vary quite significantly between individuals. Yes, the number of hours you spend asleep is an important, and easy to measure, variable of sleep hygiene. But, there’s more! The time window in which you fall asleep, the window in which you wake up, and the consistency of these sleep/wake windows also has a huge impact on how rested you feel throughout the day. You guessed correctly — more consistency in our sleep/wake times helps us feel rested because our bodies operate on a diurnal rhythm (we’re “awake-during-the-day” animals) that is sensitive to light and good ol’ soothing darkness.
The amount of hours varies person to person, and changes throughout our lives. You probably don’t need as much sleep as your annoying nephew, but likely you need more than your super-sweet grandma. The range you’ll see most often in early adulthood is 7-9 hours per night, but frankly that’s a huge range. Someone whose body and brain need 9 hours would feel absolutely awful if they were consistently getting 7 hours. Those two hours of missed sleep would add up each night until a beastly “sleep debt” was accrued. Sleep debt is the amount of hours our brain and body are behind on their restorative sleep needs.
Ironically, complex cognitive daily demands increase our sleep needs, but often are the very things keeping us awake at night. What about REM, deep sleep, snoring, sleep apnea, and everything else I’ve heard about sleep?! Whoaaaa tigerrrrrrr, let’s start with exploring our needed sleep hours, sleep/wake windows, and understand our current sleep debt.
Oh yeah, obviously, all-nighters are like super not great for you. Why you ask? We’ll explain more in future editions of The Flourish, so stay tuned.
Papa Pine, also known as Colin Campbell, ‘11, Well-Being at Stanford
Sleep to Be Well
Feel like you are dragging? Sleep may be your answer!
Sleep is the original mood booster. We may feel this truth most acutely when we finally catch up on our sleep debt, feeling a sense of relief, lightness, and energy. Our mood is strongly predicted by the quality of sleep we get in the most recent night, but also the quality of our sleep over the previous few weeks. When we accrue sleep debt, or we just have a crummy night of sleep, we notice that we’re less patient, our cognitive processing isn’t quite what we’d expect, and maybe even our social skills have fallen off a bit. Our brains and bodies are processing so much input each day, and sleep is where we clear out the gunk that inevitably accumulates from all this processing. Without quality gunk-clearing time we can feel clogged up, unable to access resilient skills that are usually available to us. We may become less aware of our emotional states, or even become subject to an emotional rollercoaster in which we’ve lost all hopes of managing the ride.
When managing a mental illness, prioritizing sleep is a critical strategy for softening symptoms. While sleep alone is not a treatment for mental illness, it is a crucial part of any treatment plan as it allows us to tap into whatever mental capacity is available to us on a given day. If you’re struggling with mental illness a therapist can often provide the support you need, often in the form of helping you build skills that will move you towards quality sleep on a regular basis.
Maybe you’re just having a couple of bad days, low quality sleep could be the major factor at play. Don’t fret — we all accumulate sleep debt from time to time, and can recover it by prioritizing restorative practices throughout our days, and most importantly, making enough time for sleep
On Campus Resource
- Stress Affecting Your Sleep? #ThoughtfulThursdays social media posting
- How to Recharge: Tips from a Stanford Wellness Coach Stanford Report
In the Spotlight
What we eat or drink can affect our sleep, but to varying degrees.
Most substances affect our sleep in different ways based on our unique physiologies, and other factors, sometimes with the specific effects changing over the course of our lives. You may notice that as you get older, caffeinated drinks after a certain time (say 3pm) of day can affect your ability to fall or stay asleep. Alcohol’s effects on sleep are well-studied, with some of the most common effects found to be a shortening of your overall sleep duration, reduced sleep quality, and exacerbation of certain sleep disorders.
Meanwhile, understanding the effects of certain foods can be helpful for supporting conditions such as indigestion, GERD, sleep disorders, eating disorders, which may not apply to everyone. Common food triggers may include chocolate, spicy food, gas-producing foods, and others that can lead to indigestion.
You may have heard about the impact of high carbohydrate, high fat, and processed foods on sleep, but beware of mistaking correlation for causation. Many mediating factors, shift-work, food deserts/swamps, stress, can also be contributing to poorer sleep quality. Extrapolating these findings to university life may not account for varying schedules, accessibility, and priorities.
What can I do if I suspect a food and sleep connection?
- Explore: Using a food journal, keep track of potential foods, substances, and habits that may be tied to sleep. Putting yourself under a microscope can be vulnerable, so take care to try on a researcher’s/observer mindset, rather than a critical/judgmental one.
- Challenge Assumptions: Sometimes we feel like we need to do something to stay awake, to feel comfortable socializing, to get ahead, etc. Is it necessarily true and is there another option available to you?
- Harm-Reduction: Nutrition isn’t all or nothing. When we change one thing, the domino effect can change other things in unexpected ways. Consider a skillful next-step. For example, if your drinking is affecting sleep quality, consider pacing the drinking, reducing the overall amount, or substituting drinking with other habits/routines.
We all have been there! Turn off the lights, get in bed, check your phone, and next thing two hours have passed you by. This non-restorative behavior is called “doomscrolling.” Doomscrolling is the act of continuously scrolling through social media or surfing the web to get bombarded by bad news; it has trapped many of us in a “vicious cycle of negativity”, especially during the pandemic. Studies have shown that doomscrolling can reinforce negative thoughts and a negative mindset. As a result, this behavior has perpetuated fear, stress, and anxiety, all off which negatively impact our mental health.
However, there are ways that can prevent you from falling into this trap. (1) Set a timer to limit how much time you are scrolling on your phone. By limiting a behavior to a specific time or place and setting boundaries for yourself, you are channeling your behavior in a more appropriate or specific time period that is more ideal. (2) Stay cognizant and use mindfulness. Observe and notice the sensations in your body and remind yourself what you are specifically looking for. By checking in with yourself and asking whether you have found what you needed, your body motivates you to put on the brakes to “doomscrolling.” (3) Learn to disconnect yourself from your screen by exercising and breathing. When you exercise and deeply breathe, you give your mind a rest while exercising your muscle, which slows your intake of content and allows you to sleep better.
Imagine how refreshed you’ll feel in the morning with that extra time with Zzzzzs!
• How Electronics Affect Sleep Sleep Foundation
• Apple's "Night Shift" Mode: How Smartphones Disrupt Sleep Scientific American
• Your 'Doomscrolling' Breeds Anxiety. Here's How To Stop The Cycle NPR KQED
• Everything You Need to Know About Doomscrolling and How to Avoid It Cleveland Clinic
Imagine this typical scenario: You have to take an important exam tomorrow. You spent the past couple of days studying to prepare for this defining test and intend to get a good night's rest. You brush your teeth, wash your face, throw on your comfiest pajamas. Your head hits the pillow, and… you are wide awake. This is the worst thing that could happen. You take some deep breaths and try to get more comfortable. Your body won't surrender. You're running out of time.
Surprisingly - moving your body could help in this situation! Research shows low-impact exercise (such as yoga, tai chi, and gentle stretching) combined with breathwork can help slow the heart rate down, signaling the body that it's time to sleep. Take it a step further. To proactively secure the likelihood of sleeping well, carve out some time in your schedule to exercise during the daytime. At least 30 minutes of aerobic and/or anaerobic exercise can improve your sleep quality that same night.
What is aerobic and anaerobic exercise? Aerobic means "with oxygen," and anaerobic means "without oxygen." Aerobic exercise is your typical cardio workouts such as swimming, cycling, and walking. It is the breath that controls the amount of oxygen that makes it to the muscles. Anaerobic exercise is a bit more intense and involves quick bursts of energy at maximum effort for a short period, usually repeated with a 10-15 second break in between. High-intensity interval training, sprints, and strength training are typical examples of anaerobic exercise. Therefore, you do not need to overly exert yourself to actively improve the quality of your sleep. A two-mile walk will do the trick, and any more activity will only help.
Suppose you do have an important exam tomorrow. In that case, you should probably take a break to get your heart rate up anyways. You will come back to your studies with a different perspective, feeling refreshed and more energized in the moment. Then, you will get the rest of your life when the sun goes down (or up, who's judging?). Sleep well!
• Exercise for Better Sleep John Hopkins Medicine
• Exercise and Sleep Sleep Foundation
• 10 Stretches to Try Before Bed Medical News Today
• Aerobic Exercise Cleveland Clinic
• What is Anaerobic Exercise? JumpStart by WebMD