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It may not be easy for students to keep their eyes open in class if they don't make sleep a priority. 

With the impending tension of coronavirus spreading throughout the world and universities shifting their classes online for the time being, students may be more prone to stress and not sleeping well. To avoid the coronavirus and other sicknesses as well as help their loved ones stay healthy during this stressful time, Dukes can use these tips to improve their quality of sleep.

Stay away from the screen

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 90% of people in the U.S. use an electronic device in the hour before bed. This can disrupt one’s circadian rhythm, or internal clock, by inhibiting the release of melatonin, a hormone that helps one fall asleep. Studies have proven that by eliminating the blue light produced by electronic devices for at least one hour before sleeping, one can expect to fall asleep faster and feel more awake and alert the next morning. 

This can be difficult for college students, as many stay up late studying on their laptops. However, once study time is over, one should steer clear of Twitter and Instagram for better sleep. Instead of scrolling through one’s phone, students can spend time doing calming activities like reading books, drawing or listening to music.

Short naps can be beneficial

As college students, it’s difficult to get an adequate amount of sleep each night. Many take naps throughout the day to help them function in absence of those extra Z’s. Research from the NSF also found that while taking naps can't replace a good night's sleep, short ones can help. The foundation’s website said a short nap “can help to improve mood, alertness and performance.” By taking naps early in the afternoon and napping for no more than 20-30 minutes, students can catch up on their sleep while rejuvenating their mind to study more efficiently. 

But, one shouldn’t nap for too long. The NSF said that when one naps later in the day it can mess with one’s sleep cycle, making it more difficult to fall asleep at night.

Exercise — day or night

Previous research suggested that exercising at night disrupts sleep patterns and quality, but recent studies report otherwise. Harvard Medical School said exercising, no matter the time of day, improves quality of sleep. Exercising in the morning may be preferable, as it stimulates the body and mind. One can exercise any time of day with no negative effect on their sleep, but it’s recommended that one avoids strenuous exercise at least an hour before bed to fall asleep faster and achieve better sleep quality. 

Fitting exercise into one’s schedule can be highly beneficial, and the flexible hours at the University Recreation Center make it easier for students to incorporate exercise in their daily routine. For some, going to UREC may not be the best fit. Students can take walks around campus or exercise in their own homes. Either way, anyone can improve their daily lives and quality of sleep by integrating regular exercise into their schedules.

Avoid caffeine before bed

Thomas Heffron at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggests drinking coffee no less than six hours before bed. Caffeine functions by blocking the receptors to adenosine, a substance that makes the body sleepy. While the effects of coffee are felt rather quickly, this stimulant can remain in one’s body for up to six hours. 

College students infamously drink coffee after coffee, as busy schedules and difficult classes demand much of their time. However, if one isn’t planning to pull an all-nighter, they should consider not having that last cup of coffee late in the day. While caffeine can help students get through all their work, it may not be worth a bad night’s sleep.

Create a sleep routine

Much of a student’s life can vary from day to day. With meetings, study groups, work schedules and more changing every day, it can be beneficial to have a calming routine before bed. Researchers at Harvard Medical School said health is a process, and students can begin by figuring out what works for them. They suggest that “individuals identify the factors that are most disruptive to their own sleep and then focus on altering particular behaviors and patterns to overcome these factors.” Sleep routines can include taking off makeup, reading part of a book or listening to music. For some, it may involve getting ready for the next day or tidying one’s room. Establishing a sleep routine can help one calm oneself, preparing both mind and body for sleep.

Contact Charlotte Matherly at mathercg@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the Culture Desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.