Most college students probably don’t get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night. It’s hard enough to make time in the day for lectures, studying, work and socializing. Recently, my inconsistent sleep schedule has taken a toll on my mental and physical health. Running on just four hours of sleep a day, I was chronically anxious, tired and suffered from consistent nightmares that jolted me awake and left me scrambling to make it to class on time.
According to the National Institute of Health, or NIH, good sleep is as essential to a healthy lifestyle as a good diet and exercise. Marishka Brown at the NIH categorizes good sleep into three major components: quantity, quality and consistency. In an attempt to improve my mental and physical health, I decided to embark on the journey of establishing a solid sleep schedule.
My doctor always told me that exposure to blue light before bed disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm because it blocks the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. With this insight, I decided to cut out all screen time at least 30 minutes before bed for one week to see whether anything changed.
To be honest, the first couple of days of the experiment were a bust. I failed to turn off my devices 30 minutes before bed because I struggled to finish my work early due to multiple midterms within the same week. But, by Wednesday, I became too exhausted to efficiently study — and I needed rest.
On Wednesday night, with my phone out of battery and the darkness encircling me, I lay in bed waiting for the heaviness of sleep to kick in. In just a short amount of time, I fell into a deep sleep. I slept at a reasonable time — around 11 p.m. — and woke up at 6 a.m., making this one of the most normal sleep cycles I had in weeks. I didn’t have any nightmares — not even vivid dreams. I woke up feeling peaceful and well-rested, excited to start my day just as the sun was rising and all of my housemates were still in bed. I had time to comfortably take a warm shower, make myself breakfast and study before my first class, too. Rather than feeling burnt out by the afternoon, attending my last class at 3 p.m. felt like a satisfying closure to a long day.
I continued to cut out blue light 15 to 30 minutes before bed for the rest of the week, but to be honest, I didn’t notice as positive of a change as I had Wednesday. I fell asleep around 2 a.m. and woke up around 8 a.m., which meant I had less time to get ready and prepare before my first class. Though six hours of shut-eye was definitely an improvement from my regular four hours, I still felt slightly tired throughout the day and not as energized as I had Wednesday when I got seven hours of sleep.
As the week wrapped up and my experiment concluded, I got a better grasp on my personal sleeping habits and need for good sleep. Though I noticed that cutting out blue light 30 minutes before bed seemed to help me sleep more consistently and fall asleep faster, there are definitely other confounding factors that may have caused this improvement as well. For example, my exhaustion, large sleep deficit and lack of distraction from any screens may all also have contributed to this result.
Furthermore, through this experiment, I came to better understand the importance of the time of day that I fell asleep and the duration of sleep. Since I was in bed by a reasonable time Wednesday, I felt better rested and more productive, not only because I got seven hours of sleep but also because my body fell into the natural rhythm of associating nighttime with sleep and daytime with working. On the days when I fell asleep at 3 a.m., I may have confused my brain as to whether it should rest or work, especially since it was already early morning the next day. Even though I still managed to get six hours of sleep during these days, I felt less energetic and sprightly.
Though this experiment only lasted one week, the benefits from cutting out blue light before bed have motivated me to continue implementing the practice in my daily life. In order to take care of my body and improve my wellness, I believe that deeper changes to my sleeping schedule must be made — even if that means less time for studying. Though I might be studying for a shorter duration of time, I’m better able to retain information and efficiently understand concepts when my brain is well-rested and not suffering from exhaustion.
I’m still trying to find a plausible balance between work and sleep, but my first priority will always be my health. We only get one body during this physical lifetime, so it’s important to take care of it before the damage caused by lack of sleep on one’s physical and mental health becomes irreversible.