Starting off medical school, I felt very overwhelmed – a combination of excitement, imposter syndrome, and anxiety as everything felt different from undergrad.
This anxiety and worry actually started translating into sleepless nights – I was consumed with these thoughts during the night, and had trouble falling asleep. I realized that I had started using television as a medium to help me fall asleep, watching Netflix to avoid my anxious thoughts.
After a few weeks, I realized how this had become my routine, and how this dependency was unhealthy. So I booked an appointment with my school’s counselling session, and made the conscious effort of having a positive sleep schedule.
I had never consciously paid attention to my sleep routine before – I would simply sleep whenever I was tired, or had completed the day’s tasks. In fact, I had the perception that bedtime routines are only for kids. But I learned from this journey how important it is to have a routine, training your mind and body for sleep.
Below are a list of things I tried to adopt for a healthy sleep routine, and my experiences related to them.
- Setting a specific time
Having a set time to sleep – 12am for me – really made me aware that it was time for bed, and allowed me to prioritize sleep. It was difficult at first to remember to wind up work at 11:45 in preparation for bed, but after a few days, my body was naturally tired around 12am, and I was ready to sleep. I found that I had less trouble convincing myself to sleep, because my body was naturally inclined to rest at the time. Also, having a set time for bed really pushed me to complete all my day’s tasks before the time, making me more efficient in terms of my daily schedule.
2. Reading a book before going to bed.
I found this to be extremely relaxing – even reading for 10 minutes before bed had a significant impact on my mindset. I was able to forget about my daily life stressors and immerse myself into the story, which consequently made it easier to sleep. Also, by reading a book instead of watching TV, I was able to avoid being on my laptop, which felt like a break from the daily work. It gave me the sense that work-time was now over, and got me into the mindset for sleep. Also, I was able to avoid the bright light from my laptop right before bed, which may have helped attain a proper sleep as well.
3. Taking deep breaths
I had heard of the benefits that breathing techniques/meditation provides, but only recently experienced it. I decided to breathe in and out for about 3-4 minutes every night before bed, as suggested by the counsellor. I found that this was very relaxing – I was able to concentrate on breathing correctly instead of my anxious thoughts. Also taking deep breaths also triggers a change in the nervous system from ‘sympathetic’ mode – which is what we associate with fight or flight – to ‘parasympathetic’ – or ‘rest and digest’ mode, indicating that I was ready to sleep.
I have stuck to these three activities that I do on the daily – they take only about 15-20 minutes of my time before bed, and have really helped establish consistent, peaceful nights. This inevitably then also helps me start off my day well-rested. I urge you to try these activities and adopt your own sleep schedule, and notice the dramatic improvement in sleep and mood these simple changes can make.