Sara Klimek

If you’ve ever woken up in the morning and felt just as exhausted as you were the night before, your most common solution might be to go to bed earlier.  But what if I told you sleeping more hours is not the source of the problem, but rather that you’re not spending enough time in the truly beneficial stage of sleep?  On a biochemical level, sleep is more difficult to understand than it seems.  A chemical in your brain first tells neurotransmitters that it’s time to sleep.  Your body temperature then cools down, your heart rate slows, and your brain cleanses itself of excess chemicals that keep you awake.  After that, your body begins to settle into rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.  REM sleep is where most dreams occur, and where your brain processes all of the activities from the previous day. It also boosts serotonin, a happy-hormone in your brain.


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If REM sleep is disturbed one night, it may affect future REM cycles.  This is why it’s so important to maximize your sleep quality.  Here are some ways that you can improve your REM sleep and wake up less tired.

1) Avoid drinking alcohol to combat sleeplessness.

Although alcohol is typically a depressant and makes us feel very relaxed and tired, it can actually impact neurotransmitter responses in the brain.  If you choose to drink at night, monitor your intake and how late you are drinking. Your last alcoholic drink should ideally be consumed two to three hours before you plan on going to bed.

2) Think about getting a new mattress.  

You’d be surprised how the position of your back and your head impacts snoring and quality of sleep.  Consider going to a sleep center to learn more about your sleeping patterns and how you can better support your body when you sleep.

3) Set a phone curfew.

71% of people either sleep with a phone in their bed or on their nightstand.  This is problematic for many reasons. Cell phones emit electromagnetic energy in the form of blue light, which makes the brain thinks that it’s daylight.  The brain then suppresses melatonin production and prevents the body from going into deep REM sleep. Set a technology curfew one hour prior to when you plan on going to bed.  Don’t forget to shut off your ringer—the email can wait!

4) Try to do a relaxing activity before bed. 

Reading, writing (on paper), or reflecting are great ways to calm your brain down.  Find something that works for you and make it your nightly routine!

5) Talk to your doctor about how medications may be impacting your sleep.  

Sometimes, the order in which we take medications may impact sleep.  Antidepressants, for example, have been known to cause issues with REM sleep.  Your doctor may suggest that you keep a sleep diary (not on your phone) to track when you wake up.  If you have a smartwatch, you can also download apps that track your heart rate and breathing patterns while you sleep. I use this app, which tracks how much time you spend in deep sleep, light sleep, and active.  

6) Change the temperature in your room.

The body sleeps best in temperatures between 60° and 67°.  Try to shut off any sources of light or noise in your room- consider investing in a white-noise machine, blackout curtains, and/or earplugs.

7) Exercise daily.  

Although vigorous exercise may be best for your heart, body, and mind, light exercise is better than nothing.  Consider going to the gym more often or going for a run when you have downtime. Although it can take a few months for you to feel the change, it is important to establish some regularity with your sleep.

8) Schedule your sleep.  

Waking up at different times during the week and on weekends may alter your circadian rhythm.  If your body is getting enough sleep, you should be able to wake up without the help of an alarm.  If you struggle to get up in the morning, consider going to bed earlier.

9) Eat less carbs and more protein.  

Not only is this better for your holistic wellbeing, but cutting carbs can help you sleep sounder.  Foods like pasta, rice, and bread can trigger waking up at night.

10) Try meditating before bed.  

Deep-breathing, rhythmic stretching, visualization, and progressive muscle reaction are a few ways to bring attention to your breath and your presence.  Ground yourself. What can you hear? What can you see? What can you taste?

What are some tips you have for other bSmart women regarding sleep? Comment below!


Sara is a freshman at the University of Vermont. She’s studying Environmental Studies and plans to go to law school upon graduation.

Comments (1)

  1. Angelina Eimannsberger

i've only recently discovered how much a cool room can help sleeping - thanks for sharing all these tips!


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