I am writing this at about 9 A.M on Sunday morning and chances are most of the Cornell student body is still asleep. Exams really mess up my sleep schedule. Normally, I’m cozied up in my most glorious bed by 11 or 12 P.M but lately I’ve been looking at the clock for the last time around 2:30 A.M. And the sad part of it all is that my body won’t seem to let me sleep in. Some internal clock starts freaking out at 9 in the morning and won’t shut up until I’m in the shower.
Sleep is finicky. My friend can’t sleep if she eats anything before going to bed. Another can’t sleep if she works out too close to bedtime. I slept terribly this week because I left my pillow, blanket, and my stuffed elephant at home. Make fun of me all you want, but that elephant is critical for a good night’s sleep. So many conditions need to be perfect to achieve that deep REM sleep that leaves us feeling fresh the next day. Most of us know what it is that prevents us from sleeping, but what are the things that help us slip into our nightly coma?
Food provides our body with energy, which seems sort of counterintuitive when the goal is to fall asleep. But is there some truth to the great clichés of warm milk before bed, the post thanksgiving dinner snooze, or the idea of a “food coma”? Mayo Clinic has made the statement that no food can make you sleep better but there are some tricks to falling and staying asleep. They recommend eating small snacks to prevent hunger pangs from keeping you awake, avoiding large, high fat meals, avoiding spicy foods or foods that may cause heartburn, drinking moderate amounts of liquid before bed, avoiding caffeine for many hours prior to bedtime, and avoiding alcohol because it prevents the deeper stages of sleep.
Sleep expert Helene Emsellem, a consultant for CNN, gives some recommendations for the nights when you just can’t fall asleep. She claims that warm drinks, such as warm milk or chamomile tea, may release tryptophan which stimulates serotonin production, a neurotransmitter linked with sleep promotion. She also states that the body can become immune to tryptophan but may still respond to the ritual of sipping warm liquids. Dr. Maas, Cornell’s well-established sleep guru, recommends adding white noise to the mix. The body wakes itself up from sudden noises and constant noise will help to drown them out. In addition, light signals the body that it should be awake. Maas also recommends light-canceling shades and turning off or covering appliances or technology that radiate any source of light.
With finals glaring menacingly in our direction, sleep could never be more important. We all tend to sleep into this all-nighter mentality that can actually be detrimental to test taking. And since sleep deprivation decreases memory rention, sleep may be just as important to studying as studying itself! So in order to succeed and retain the maximal amount of information during study period, set aside at least 8 hours of sleep and prepare for that sleep all day in order to see that A.