Starting Medical School with the Right Sleep Habits

Maintaining good sleep hygiene while thriving in medical school may sound like an impossible task. But,  having those healthy sleep habits will actually help you both in and out of the classroom. Taking good care of your body (including getting enough quality sleep) will only help you along the pathway as you learn to take care of others as a physician. I’m going to share a few tips for setting up good sleep habits, and well as share some of the reasons why getting enough sleep will set you up for success.

Tips for Setting up Healthy Sleep Habits:

  1. sleepy cat on keyboard

    Stick to a routine. Setting a schedule for going to bed and waking up at the same time each day helps to set circadian rhythms. Setting and alarm to remind yourself to get to bed can be helpful, especially near test times! Keeping the same sleep schedule during the week and on the weekend helps solidify good habits, and makes it much easier to head to class Monday morning.

  2. Limit screen time 1-2 hours before bedtime. Light exposure, especially from screens in one of the things that triggers our brains for wakefulness. Powering down devices at least on hour before bedtime, and even dimming other room lights can help your body start to relax.
  3. Reserve the bedroom for sleeping. Studying in bed, while comfortable, isn’t always the most relaxing. Using the bedroom as a place to unwind, and detress (hopefully with a screen-free bedtime routine) will help you get the best night’s sleep.
  4. Exercise daily (but not right before bedtime). Keeping your body moving, especially when you spend much of the day sitting in the auditorium or learning studio is essential to getting a good night’s rest. Finding an activity that you enjoy will help keep you motivated and on the move.
  5. When your mind is racing and you can’t fall asleep…. First, taking a few deeper breaths, counting 4 counts for the inhale and 6 counts for the exhale. Calming the respiration and focusing on the breath will help you relax. If you are still having trouble relaxing, try writing down a list of things that are keeping your attention and setting it aside. Its important to get enough sleep, but don’t stress about not sleeping.

Why Sleep Matters:

  1. Increased concentration and productivity. Getting enough sleep at night increases your ability to pay attention in the classroom. Your efficiency during study sessions is also higher when you are able to concentrate- so while you might think it’s a good idea to stay up late studying, you might actually be better off getting some rest, and being more efficient with your time.
  2. Ease in social and emotional interactions: When you are well rested, you are able to handle a wider variety of social and emotional situations. As a medical student, you will interact with a large peer group, and have to manage some difficult emotional situations with patients. Being well rested helps give you the tools to manage these situations appropriately.
  3. Poor sleep habits can make you gain weight. The less you sleep- the more you eat to stay awake during the day. So, basically, not sleeping will make you fat.
  4. Sleep improves immune function. As you are around a brand new group of people, you are being exposed to a different set of germs. Getting enough rest can help your immune system work at its best to keep you healthy.

— Deborah Barry, PhD



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