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!
Let’s explore these areas together.
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