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pillows and bed

Active Terps Sleep Well

Commit to prioritizing your sleep this semester

Sleep is a critical component of living well, yet most college students do not get enough. Improvements in sleep can help you...

  • Feel more energized and focused throughout the day
  • Better manage stress, anxiety and other mental health conditions 
  • Enhance cognitive function for better academic performance 


Sleep and Stress Management

What is stress, and how does it impact sleep? 

Stress is the body's response to perceived threats such as change, conflict, or pressure. When the stress response is activated, the body releases two hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones initiate the fight/flight/freeze response, which remains in effect until the body perceives safety and can return to a state of relaxation. 

When we experience long-term or chronic stressors like demanding jobs, difficult course loads, and other responsibilities, the body struggles to feel safe and we cannot shift from the stress response to a state or relaxation. This prolonged state of stress disrupts bodily functions, including sleep. Therefore, effective stress management is imperative to over all well-being. 


How does sleep help improve your studies? 

Healthy sleep habits are crucial to academic performance. During sleep, your body and brain cycle through four stages, each of which is essential for allowing your brain and body to recover from the events (and stressors) of the day. As a result, high quality and quantity sleep can lead to: 

  • Feeling more alert and energetic
  • Improved meory consolidation and learning 
  • Increased ability to focus on a task 
  • Improved critcal thinking skills
  • Better able to manage stress

All of these benefits can help you achieve your academic goals! 

sleep and stress cycle
sleep stress cycle
sleep stages

Stress is an inevitable part of life, but learning to manage it and use it effectively is important. Stress management techniques can help shortern the amount of time spent in the stress response.

  • Sleep Prioritization - Improving your sleep quantity and quality gives your body and mind time to recover and resent from stress during the day. Check out the "start sleeping better now" tab for more information 
  • Diaphragmatic Breathing (aka Belly Breathing) - A deep breathing technique where you consciously use your diaphragm to fill your lungs and pull air into the belly. This technique helps you relax by slowing your heart rate and increasing the flor of oxygen in your blood.
  • Meditation - A deeply spiritual practice that has been around for thousands of years. This technique is proven to lower stress levels, boost mood, and improve sleep quality.
  • Physical Activity - Movement and exercise reduces the level of stress hormones and increases the production of mood boosters (endorphins), helping you feel better, AND sleep better.
  • Social Support: Emotionally supportive friends, family members, classmates, and colleagues can help you develop resilience to handle stressful situations. Consider who you feel comfortable turning to for support within your current network. If you are looking to expand your social circle, campus clubs and events are a great place to
    • Hobbies that promote individual happiness can take your mind off of stressful thoughts. UMD has over 800 clubs and student organizations to help you discover your passion and meet other students!  start 
Tips for Sleeping Well

 During the day… 

  • Engage in some form of physical activity, ideally on a routine basis. 
  • Adopt a regular meal schedule (i.e. eating around the same times each day) that includes a nutritious breakfast. 

At bedtime… 

  • Create a consistent bedtime routine with elements that help your mind settle down, such as turning off electronics, showering, stretching, meditating, or journaling. 
  • When possible, adjust lighting, noise and temperature to establish a sound sleep environment (sleep masks and ear plugs are great options if your roommates’ preferences do not align with yours) 

During the night… 

  • If you wake up, try to avoid reaching for your phone/other electronics, as the light and notifications can disturb you from falling back asleep. 
  • If you can’t fall back asleep, get up and perform a monotonous task (folding clothes, reading a familiar book, etc.), then head back to bed once you feel sleepy again.

Before the semester begins, 

  • Build a thoughtful class schedule that makes it possible to reach the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night (for example, try to avoid a late night commitment followed by an early morning class the next day). Also try to go to class during the same hours each day in order to establish a general routine. 
  • Consider your sleep preferences - if you are an early bird, prioritize morning commitments over later ones. And if you're a night owl, seek opportunities for classes later in the day 

During the semester, 

  • Identifty your priorities - With so many opportunities to engage on UMD's campus, it can be tempting to sign up for a full course load and multiple extracurricular activities. When possible, start small to ensure you can establish a consistent sleep schedule, and then consider adding more to your plate once you are confident you can manage all your commitments. 
  • Make time for sleep - As big assignments loom, remember that sleep is crucial for concentration, memory, and crtical thinking. Instead of sacrificing sleep for a few extra study hours, consider making time to exercise and get to bed, giving your body time to rest and recover overnight in order to achieve full cognitive function

Did you know that there are campus resources to help you improve your sleep health? 

  • The Counseling Center can assess and address mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety that may be impacting your sleep habits. 
  • The University Health Center can conduct an evaluation for potential physiological causes of sleep difficulties. The Health Promotions & Wellness Services unit also offers sleep consultations and provides sleep kits (eye mask and ear plugs) to improve your sleep environment. 

Be Strategic With Classroom and Grading Policies 

  • Utilize small assignments throughout the semester instead of one or two big assignments. This shift may help keep students from cramming and procrastination, which can disrupt their sleep schedules.
  • Increase the weight of class participation in course grading to promote thoughtful engagement and reduce out-of-class workload.
  • Change midnight deadlines to afternoon deadlines to encourage earlier and more regular bedtimes.
  • Use flexible deadlines when possible. In professional settings, deadlines sometimes shift as unexpected things come up throughout a project. Adopt the same mindset in the classroom and encourage students to communicate early and often about their progress toward a deadline. As able, be open to extending deadlines so that students’ sleep and wellbeing are not compromised.
  • Consider offering one or two ‘no questions asked’ absences per semester that students can use to get a little extra sleep in their week.

Engage Students in Conversation

  • Ask permission to share sleep health information with students, as asking permission acknowledges students’ autonomy and decision-making capacity. Have some sleep best practices on hand for students who grant permission for support. 
  • When discussing sleep with students…
    • Emphasize the positive (instead of ‘not getting enough sleep could hurt your GPA’, consider saying, ‘prioritizing your sleep health could help you manage stress and focus on important tasks’).
    • Focus on their goals. If they want to perform better in school, exercise more regularly, or improve their mental health, discuss how sleep could help them achieve that goal.
    • Acknowledge barriers to sleep health that may exist (early morning/night commitments, noisy roommates, etc.), and help students come up with solutions.
  • Check out conversation guides linked below from The Maryland Collaborative:

Share Resources 

Model and Reward Healthy Behaviors 

  • Include sleep education or a sleep challenge in coursework (For example, assign students to do a sleep log for one week to track their sleep quantity/quality). With such initiatives, students will not always need to go to the counseling center to get sleep support but instead can get it directly in their classrooms. These initiatives can be especially useful in popular/intro level classes so that they reach a large number of students (particularly first-years).
  • Model and share healthy behaviors by talking to students about how you prioritize sleep in your own life.

Logging your sleep is one way to track the effects of sleeping well on other aspects of your life. Using a log will help you 

  • Note trends in your sleep quantity and quality overtime,
  • Relate sleep health to your mood, physical activity, and other factors,
  • Hold yourself accountable to your sleep goals.
  • Use a PDF/hand written sleep log or check out one of the recommended apps below 

SleepWatch Insight Timer Medito BetterSleep
Compatibility iPhone only iPhone/Android iPhone/Android iPhone/Android
Price Free(paid version available) Free(paid version available) Free $4.99/month
Bedtime Stories yes yes yes
Ambient Sounds yes yes yes yes
Naturescapes yes yes yes yes
Guided Meditations yes yes yes
Breathwork Sessions yes yes
Bedtime Reminders yes
Mood Tracker yes
Sleep Recorder yes yes
Sleep Log yes yes
Educational Content yes yes

Sleep and Exercise

Exercise helps you sleep better

A single bout of exercise during the day can help you sleep better that night. Here’s how: 

  • Your body temperature rises while moving/getting active and then gradually falls back down. As your body cools down, it also prepares for sleep, thus helping you feel tired and ready for bed. 
  • Engaging in physical activity is linked to decreases in anxiety, which can clear your mind and help you fall asleep more quickly and soundly.

Additionally, a routine of physical activity can have an even bigger impact on sleep health by: 

  • Reducing anxiety and stress, which makes it easier to fall asleep
  • Preventing unhealthy weight gain, which can help prevent sleep apnea and other sleep disorders
  • Reducing snoring, which can help you (and your roommate) sleep more soundly!

Sleep helps you get more from your workouts

A great night’s sleep can increase your likelihood of exercising the following day AND improve your exercise performance. 

  • If you wake up feeling well-rested and experience less incidences of daytime sleepiness, you may find more motivated to work out. 
  • A high quality sleep session allows our bodies to recover more fully and thus gives us the power we need for a great workout the next day. 

sleep infpgraphic
infographic about sleep
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