I like to think that graduate school is about dreaming big things. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to dream when you do not sleep [citation needed]. In fact, without sleep, things you might want to be doing when you’re awake can become more difficult, too. Things like, say, not crashing your Navy boat or getting good research work done. (If you are in the mood for more factoids about the importance of sleep and/or are curious about “Sleep 101” at Harvard, look here). Moving into graduate school, I struggled (and still do) with sleeping when I wanted to sleep. I would key this as the most difficult aspect of my transition into graduate school.

As an undergraduate, I had an entirely different — perhaps entirely opposite — problem. Falling asleep was easy… often easier, in fact, than not falling asleep. My undergraduate sleep habits were an artifact of over-scheduling. Some of the worst of it, I remember was having the score for the opera Le comte Ory unexpectedly thrust onto my music stand. (I was obliged by an oboe scholarship.) We met for up to five hour pit orchestra rehearsals that were scheduled through 11 p.m. (!!!), after which I would leave to start my other homework.

During this time of my life, I employed a greedy sleep-scheduling policy. Because sleep was in short supply, sleeping was always a useful, “productive” activity. Thus, at the time it made sense to weigh sleep equally against any other task and schedule it first as often as possible. “I can sleep now and do that tomorrow.”

Perpetually sleep deprived, sleeping wherever and whenever I had the time and then rolling out of bed seven minutes before a 7:30 a.m. organic chemistry exam was workable — I almost never had problems falling asleep.

Graduating and moving on to a lifestyle where I could have some free time (?!??!?!), this sleep scheduling strategy worked very, very poorly. For me, without restrictions, greedy sleep-scheduling means sleeping 10 or 11 hours a night. During my first summer in East Lansing, I had very few restrictions. I rapidly regressed to severe night-owlishness. (See my disproportionate amount of nocturnal wandering around MSU during August 2017).

Very quickly, I realized severe night-owlishness was for my bad for my work output and my personal wellbeing. The solution, I reasoned, was simply to go to bed at a reasonable hour. I tried getting into bed at 9 or 10 p.m. and would sit there, wide awake, until 3 a.m., 4 a.m. or later. Of course, after finally falling asleep, then I’d sleep through noon. As this carried onward, I felt I had lost control of very basic and important aspects of my life.

So began a long trial-and-error search for interventions to get myself to sleep during the night and be awake during the day. I tried a lot of things. Early on, I focused on the falling asleep part of the equation. It was only a few months in that I realized that waking up was also an important target for intervention.

With respect to your sleep, there is no shortage of variables to play with. I tried a lot of things. In this blog, I’ll blitz through various sleep interventions I’ve tried, in no particular order. For anyone working to keep a workable sleep schedule, maybe you’ll come away with some new ideas to try out.

🔗 Alarm Clock

Through my long-time struggle with alarm clocks, I’ve identified three wakefulness states:

  1. fully asleep (self explanatory),
  2. lizard brain (e.g., only capable of limited decision-making based on immediate trade-offs), and
  3. conscious (e.g., mostly or fully capable of rational decision-making).

The fortunate thing about my lizard brain is that it seems surprisingly well informed about what’s on the calendar (e.g., an organic chemistry exam in seven minutes that’s a five minute walk away). Even when my alarm doesn’t go off (usually because I set p.m. rather than a.m.), I am astounded by how well my lizard brain can pick up on when I need to be up to avoid catastrophe (e.g., 7:23 a.m. for the 7:30 a.m. organic chemistry exam).

The unfortunate thing about lizard brain is that it really doesn’t know and/or care about any conscious decisions I’ve made about when I want to be up. As you’ll see a little later, I have had zero success attempting to trick lizard brain into thinking I need to be up when I actually don’t. So, to influence my sleep patterns on the morning side of the equation, I need to figure out how to sneak past lizard brain to reach the conscious state. Easier said than done.

On the left, my long-time mortal enemy. This little Timex makes a crude, infuriating electronic beep. It gets the job done (transitioning from fully asleep to lizard brain), but it can make me feel like I’m hungover (especially if lizard brain doesn’t want to be up yet). Unfortunately, unless I need to be up lizard brain has become quite good at ignoring the Timex or hitting the snooze button. In high school, my mom, who from time to time had to leave early for work, once had to call the neighbor over to ring our doorbell in order to wake me up. Our neighbor could hear this alarm clock going off from the front door.

To try to bypass lizard brain and reach consciousness, I tried relocating the alarm clock into my living room. Lizard brain immediately became adept at rolling out of bed, staggering down the hall into the living room, hitting the snooze button (even when I tried placing the Timex under a colander with a bowl of cereal on top), and retreating back to bed. On some weekend mornings, I figure that I have hit the snooze button upwards of 12 times (quarter hour increments over three hours).

The traditional alarm clock clearly doesn’t succeed at putting me past lizard brain to full consciousness. The Timex is useful to make sure that I don’t miss important morning meetings because under these circumstances I have lizard brain’s full cooperation. (Because the Timex will fall back on a 9 Volt battery if there’s a power interruption, it is especially useful for important occasions.)

I’ve found more success easing past lizard brain into full consciousness using a clock-radio tuned to NPR. It’s actually an Amazon Alexa, which only recently gained this capability. I have it set to low volume, usually at 5:30 a.m. The thing is, though, I don’t expect to get up at 5:30 a.m. I actually expect wake up sometime between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. Lizard brain doesn’t seem to care about quiet, soothing NPR voices (despite what they’re often actually talking about). I hypothesize that I pass through lizard brain stage, which is not sufficiently irked to turn off the stimulus, and, with continued application of the stimulus, eventually gain enough consciousness to decide to get out of bed. I’ve experienced one side effect: occasional extremely vivid dreams about whatever topic is being covered on NPR. I can live with that. My DIY sunrise lamp (details below) also seems to help me ease past lizard brain.

A few years ago, I tried using a music playlist as an alarm. Unfortunately, the playlist couldn’t be shuffled, so the first track to come on was always the same. Lizard brain very quickly learned to recognize it and hate it, leaving me right back in snooze button hell. After a month or so, I didn’t even like to hear the track any more when I was awake. Besides being too uniform of a stimulus, the music alarm might have been too loud and/or music might just be inherently too strong of a stimulus for lizard brain to tolerate. If you do go for a music-based alarm, you might play with the alarm volume, try making sure that your alarm always plays a different sequence of tracks (e.g., shuffle over a large selection or tuning into a music-oriented radio station), and experiment with different genres.

My smart watch has a wrist-buzzing alarm. It took about two days for lizard brain to learn to snooze it, just like the Timex. The wrist alarm’s not unpleasant, though, and might be useful in a situation where I wanted to transition from fully asleep to lizard brain without disturbing someone else.

🔗 Temperature

Sleeping in the heat sucks. I miss my big, heavy comforter dearly during the summer.

It took me a whole year to figure that one out. (It also took me a whole semester to realize that buses with the same number go different ways and I could tell the difference by the scrolling message panel on the front of the bus.)

In a sadly doomed campaign to cool by cross ventilation, I amassed an absurdly large collection of fans (six!!! for a one bedroom apartment).

Cross ventilation does nothing when it’s 80 F out at 2am. Fans that blow on you, though, help alittle. I have a desk fan on my nightstand and a pedestal fan at the foot of the bed. My mom tells me that damp washcloths and frozen water bottles are also better than nothing.

If you have it, though, AC is hard to beat. My apartment came with a Reagan-vintage wall AC unit. For a while, I was too cheap to run it. I have since become convinced that AC at bedtime is worth every penny. I bought a plug timer for the AC, which allows me to fine tune beyond the existing options (basically “on” and “off”). I’ll usually have it run until 1 or 2 a.m., then have the plug timer turn off to save a buck.

I redeployed my army of fans from cross ventilation duty to blow AC from the unit in the living room into my sleep area. I’d really like to do something more cleverer, but my loud Reagan-box runs on a 240 volt plug (you know, the kind you might plug your laundry machine or industrial grow light in with) so I can’t smartify it.

When I have the choice (i.e., during the winter when I can just open my window), I find that cooler temperatures (e.g., maybe 62 F) can help me fall asleep… but make crawling out of bed the next morning harder.

🔗 Air

Another feature of Reagan-era apartments: no ventilation.

This 24 hour plot of CO2 concentration in my bedroom came from my Awair glow. Even with the windows open, you can still see CO2 levels spike up a little when I’m at home. I don’t have the data anymore, but with the windows closed I’ve seen CO2 levels spike to 2500 ppm.

Too-high CO2 levels can make you feel off. Stale air accumulating in a sealed person-box for eight hours probably doesn’t help you rise and shine.

I bought some plants for my room, more because I like plants and Ikea things than for any other reason. (Plants respire, too.)

The real answer here is to leave the window open, which I do every night.

🔗 Bad Noise

An unfortunate trade-off accompanies leaving the window open: noise.

Even when I can’t sleep for other reasons, noise just makes me angry. Feeling angry doesn’t help me sleep.

Unfortunately, probably your best bet to manage noise problems is choosing where to live which (a) you probably don’t get to do very often and (b) you might not have full control over.

Beware: outdoor hallways, courtyards, public balconies, and fire escapes. That is, unless you’re into listening to gratuitously protracted conversations about asinine criteria to rank women (drunk) or how, man, isn’t it just wild that the capitalists beat the communists to the moon even though, you know, they were just like all about making melon ballers and whatever useless other shit (high). Despite, I’m still obsessed with my building’s balconies for   a e s t h e t i c   reasons.

Also potentially problematic: parking lots and driveways… i.e., woofer beats coming and going at all hours. This noise is usually transient and therefore, to me, much less aggravating.

This sound-proof-ness of walls is so, so important, and varies widely. You can check on this when you’re touring an apartment (and you should!). I got lucky: often, I only become aware of well-underway Miley-level Bangerz (tm) next door during the brief moments the front door opens to admit and/or expel party people. On the flip side, my boyfriend used to live in a dorm with walls so thin you (unavoidably) learned to recognize who was in the bathroom two doors down by the sound of their urination.

One of my very, very all-time favorite pieces of journalism comes from James Day of my hometown Corvallis Gazette-Times. In reports from 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2017 he stakes out student-dense neighborhoods — sometimes accompanied by grumpy long-time residents — in order to record a meticulous litany of livability complaints. I find the articles endlessly entertaining.

If you are dedicated enough, you might take a cue from James Day’s intrepid reporting and stake out your intended neighborhood (especially on a Friday or Saturday night) to check noise levels. Probably a better idea is to simply clue in to who else lives in the building/neighborhood your considering. Do “real people” live there? What about other grad students? Then it’s probably a safe bet noise-wise. You might also consult with current residents of the town you’re moving into. They will probably have plenty of opinions to share about the livability of various neighborhoods, and will steer you out of at least the inner circles of undergraduate hell.

“A Judgemental Map of East Lansing” [source]

Besides choosing somewhere quiet to live, you can also, you know, just ask your neighbors to keep the noise under control. As a freshman, my dorm room shared a wall with a wanna-be DJ. We worked out a system where I would bang on the wall and he’d turn down the volume 25%. Compromise!

Sometimes, at 2am, though, I really don’t feel like going outside to ask nicely. Yelling out the window is always an option. Last summer, to my great disorientation, I woke up in the middle of lizard brain yelling at noisemakers to quiet down. I didn’t know I had that voice inside me. From that point onwards, though, whoever was on party people babysitting duty made a sincere effort to shush the noisemakers and bring them back inside after they were done throwing up. I really did appreciate the courtesy.

A few times, I’ve considered calling in a noise violation but never quite felt adequately disturbed. A few important pointers for that:

  1. Don’t call 911… call the non-emergency line instead (the number should be on your local police department’s website).
  2. Really, you should ask (or yell) first… frivolous/biased calls to authorities are a real problem.

Also, sometimes I forget this, but just rolling over and putting a pillow over your head can help a lot, too.

🔗 Good Noise

For some people, some noises can be pleasant!

Your smart speaker can probably play white noise. I played with this some, but didn’t care for it.

My army of fans generates plenty of white noise. Some nights, I’m super into the fan noise. Other nights, I’m not. On those nights, it’s nice being able to turn everything off with a voice command.

I like listening to a brief newscast before sleep. I currently have “NPR News Now” and “BBC World Service” set up on my Alexa’s Flash Briefing

I used to listen to Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac regularly before bed, but I have mixed feelings after his unacceptable conduct came to light. The Almanac briefly ceased to exist but has since returned to production. Attempts (1, 2) to fill the void, unfortunately, don’t seem to have stuck.

If there’s a podcast feed you like that’s not currently available as a Flash Briefing skill, it’s actually very straightforward to fix that. Setting it up takes maybe fifteen minutes, and no coding is involved.

First, you need to create a mirror RSS feed that only serves up the most recent episode of your podcast. Otherwise, Alexa will play through all the available episodes every time, which probably isn’t what you want. It’s easy (and free) to do this with a RSS to RSS “zap” from Zapier where you set your mirror RSS feed to only return one item (e.g., Max Records = 1). This way, when Alexa is done with the most recent episode of whatever, she won’t just keep playing the rest of the episodes in the feed for you.

Second, hop on over to Amazon to register a developer account, click a few buttons, and paste in your Zaipier RSS url. Once you save the skill, it should become available to “test” on your Alexa devices. You can comfortably continue using the skill like this without ever needing to officially publish it.

🔗 Dark

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. (I’m not even a (philosophy) doctor.) Consult an attorney and under no circumstances violate the law.

When I first moved into my neighborhood in East Lansing, I was thrown for a loop by a very out of place bit of apparent pro-MSU graffiti: green spray paint on a street light. It wasn’t until I walked by after dark that I realized that, duh, the homeowner whose window the bad streetlight violated had taken prerogative for some righteous unilateral action. Inspired, I aluminum foiled an exterior light at my building that shines directly in my bedroom. It’s been up for almost a year now with no problems.

Another option: plant a big shrubbery between your window and the offending light source. My mom did this when Oregon State put in a new barn-classroom thing right behind her house.

After consulting an attorney, do whatever you want. Just be sure that your righteous self-empowerment won’t pose a fire risk (e.g., maybe don’t duct tape a bare light bulb).

🔗 Sunrise Lamp

I combined an Ikea FADO table lamp with a smart light bulb to fashion a DIY sunrise lamp. The idea here is that the light runs on a timer to gently fade in before I want to get up, gradually shifting my body towards wakefulness. I quite like it, especially in combination with a clock radio alarm. It probably ranks among the more effective interventions I’ve tried. Plus, it doubles as a handy voice-controlled area light via Amazon Alexa.

A few details:

  • I originally scheduled the bulb to fade in across linearly spaced brightness increments (e.g., 10% to 20% to 30% to 40% etc.). After a few days, I switched to exponentially spaced brightness increments, which I like much more (e.g., 1% to 2% to 4% to 8% etc.).
  • I schedule the bulb to automatically turn off after two hours at full brightness (e.g., every day at 7 a.m.) so it doesn’t stay on all day if I don’t happen to be home to turn it off myself.
  • Currently, Ikea doesn’t stock appear to stock the FADO table lamp in the US. I bought my lamp on eBay for about $50. The smart bulb cost about $15 on Amazon. Be careful if you try to pick up a lamp designed for a different region (e.g., Europe) because the power plug might be incompatible with your outlet.
  • The free If This Than That service (IFTTT), which acts like a kind of handy duct tape for control of smart devices and web services, only offers time triggers at fifteen minute granularity. Luckily, the particular no-brand smart bulb I bought provides proprietary timing functionality that allowed for brightness adjustments at one minute increments. I ended up using a combination of IFTTT and proprietary triggers because the proprietary service only offered six daily schedulable events.
  • If you end up with a smart bulb that doesn’t offer proprietary timing triggers (or, even better, trigger-able configurable fades), you might be able to achieve a reasonable fade in through clever acrobatics via another service called Stringify.

🔗 Workspace Lighting

There are a lot of things I like about our lab’s office space. Unfortunately, we have no windows.

So, I have lots of lights at my desktop try to get myself to physiologically register that it is indeed daytime when it is daytime, including:

  • a happy lamp positioned to directly administer photons into my eyeballs,
  • a LED desk lamp,
  • bias lighting (a stick-on LED strip that plugs directly into my monitor for power via USB), and
  • sick RGB underlighting on my keyboard (does nothing, but looks sweeeet).

The sinister flip side of this coin: tricking your physiology into thinking it’s daytime when it is actually not. Blue light from screens is thought to be great at this. Rebalancing the color composition of your screens, especially at night, might help.

Back when I had a mac, I used f.lux. Now I use Redshift, which had better support for Linux the last time I checked.

In the last few years, screen blue light management on screens has gone increasingly mainstream. Apple now natively supports it on their iOS and OS X devices under the moniker “Night Shift.” Other systems I’m less familiar with (windows, android, etc.) probably support blue light adjustments, too.

I also like to turn down my devices’ screen brightness at night. I just do it manually whenever the thought strikes me.

🔗 Pills and Such

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. (I’m not even a philosophy doctor.) Consult your physician, yo.

Since I started playing around with pills and such RE: sleeping, my approach has switched from trying to concoct an elixir to use every night to lining up a series of pills and such, falling back to more extreme/disruptive options if I keep awake.

My go-to pill is melatonin. I’m not convinced it’s objectively very effective, but it tends to feel helpful. I’ll take a good placebo effect any day. If I’m already nice and drowsy at bedtime, I’ll just skip it.

When melatonin doesn’t cut it and I’m still awake after half an hour or an hour, about once or twice a week nowadays, I’ll fall back on Doxylamine Succinate aka Unisom or — if I’m feeling congested, too — drowsy allergy medication (Cetirizine Hydrochloride aka Zyrtec). These definitely make me feel groggy. Based on how I feel the next day, I suspect that these pills reduce the quality of my sleep. In particular, it can feel more difficult to break through sleep inertia and get out of bed. In my calculation, though, that beats tossing and turning through 5 a.m. (followed, of course) by several days of sleep schedule anarchy. Lately, I’ve only been using these every week or two.

🔗 Caffeine

I try not to have caffeine after noon, since its half life is 5 hours.

You can fine tune the dose of caffeine in your bean water by cutting regular ground coffee with decaf.

🔗 Ulysses Pact

On the left, behold strange remnants of a failed Ulysses pact on my kitchen windowsill. The idea was to explicitly incentivize a certain pattern of behavior. Success meant being in the shower (under running water) at or before an alarm went off at 7:00 a.m. I planned to associate success with donations to my charity cause of choice (e.g., moving quarters from one mug to the other). Originally, excessive failure (beyond a predefined threshold number of days per month) would result in contributions to repugnant causes and public self-shaming on Facebook. After I obviously didn’t follow through with these self-punishments, I considered simply destroying currency instead as a less extreme alternative. I never did get around burning dollar bills in my bathtub or flushing them down the toilet, though.

In my opinion, Ulysses pacts only works if your conscious brain is at bat. Lizard brain didn’t clue into any of this, so it didn’t work.

A Ulysses pact might work better with someone else in the loop to help hold you accountable. There are plenty of apps out there set up just for this type of thing.

A different self-compulsion trick that works much better: leaving my laptop overnight at my desk never fails to get me in to the office at a reasonable hour the next day.

🔗 Schedule Activities in the Morning

Lizard brain seems to be very well clued into the potential shame of tardiness or truancy for obligations like class, medical appointments, and volunteer activities. Last year, I intentionally scheduled myself to volunteer at 8am two days a week to help regulate my sleep schedule. However, this trick only really works for morning activities I’m truly obligated to follow through with, because lizard brain seems to know the difference.

🔗 Coaxing

I went through a phase where I thought I might be able to coax lizard brain out of bed with nice things.

At one point, I literally put out a pillow, granola, and water on my living room floor. The idea was that lizard brain would be forced out of bed by my horrible Timex alarm in the living room and then, finding accommodations so conveniently prepared, elect to deposit my body on the floor (where I would eventually gain consciousness) instead of returning to bed. This did not work.

In the coaxing department, I have also also tried

  • having   M r .   C o f f e e   automatically brew a morning beverage,
  • installing a fancy   r a i n f a l l   showerhead,
  • using a transparent shower curtain to enjoy the   n i c e   morning light,
  • installing an Amazon Echo Dot and portable speaker above the vanity cabinet for quality   s h o w e r     j a m s  , and
  • leaving out my camera, because who could bear to miss the fleeting   a e s t h e t i c   morning light.

None of these worked, but at least I got some nice things I enjoy anyways out of it.

🔗 Screen Time

For me, doing pointless things on the internet when I’m supposed to be sleeping generally seems to be a symptom of not sleeping instead of a cause.

I do put some parental controls on myself on my work computer and on my iPad.

If I were really serious, I would have someone else set the password to make overrides more difficult. For me, mere inconvenience dissuades most pointless things well enough, though.

Even if the hours are all well-justified, it is depressingly eyeopening to quantify the time spent on touch devices. I assume most modern devices let you do this, and you should. Last year, I swapped out my iPhone for a Blackberry, which makes me feel a little less like I’m stuck on the hamster wheel.

Also helpful: unfollow every single person and page on Facebook (you are missing absolutely nothing, I promise), unsubscribe from email lists, and use the “mute” and the “retweet mute” buttons judiciously on your personal Twitter.

I tried relocating my device chargers out of the bedroom. I ended up deciding to return my iPad to the nightstand, though. Although not a totally ideal way to start the day, I find that checking my RSS feeds and making my daily deposit on the Instagram helps to incentivize and ease the transition from lizard brain to consciousness.

🔗 Self Tracking

Ah, quantified self. The thing you do for a while and then somehow end up not doing anymore.

I played around with the Garmin Vivosmart 3 wrist tracker and Existential Time Tracking in a little Moleskine notebook. All I got out of tracking everything I did all day, every day was a paper trail for the embarrassingly large amount of time I spent learning the Japanese alphabets. (Yes, plural.)

From the wrist tracker, I didn’t get much better utility. I learned I usually sleep nine hours a night and apparently I enter “deep sleep” for only like 5 minutes (whatever that means). I’m at a loss for how to apply these insights, though.

Personally, I find quantified self projects that unfold on the scale decades like Kazuo Yano’s very nifty wrist-accelerometer “life tapestry” and Steven Wolfram’s also nifty email/keylogger tapestry the most compelling. Unfortunately, although they do tell a cool story, I don’t find quantified self projects like these terribly prescriptive. Also, they take years to mature.

🔗 Make Your Bed and Clean Your Sink

Some woman who was being interviewed by Terri Gross on Fresh Air briefly convinced me that cleaning your sink and making your bed was life-changing Zen magic. (For some reason, I remember the guest as the totally kick-ass current director of the IMF, but this doesn’t really make sense.) Making your bed and cleaning your sink is nice, but isn’t life-changing Zen magic.

In my experience, though, walking to the grocery store and then cooking a proper dinner seems to correlate with easier sleep.

🔗 Smart Home

I use Amazon Echo to devices around the house. At night, it’s sometimes nice to be able to turn on/off the radio (especially, putting it on a sleep timer) or ask about the weather and other odds and ends without having to get up or use a screen.

I use a bunch of Meross smart plugs, which are cheap and work fine, around the house to control lamps and fans. I have an Awair Glow smart plug, too, but wouldn’t strongly recommend it because it’s been pretty spotty in terms of reliability lately. Again, it’s nice being able to turn devices (especially fans, see Air and Good Noise) on/off without having to get up or use a screen. I played around with lots of different control strategies (e.g., weather-based, indoor temperature based, etc.), but here are the recipes I found to be the most useful:

  • three-part IFTTT -> Stringify -> IFTTT recipe for a voice-activated X hour timer for smart devices (1, 2, 3)
    • that way, you can save electricity by not running fans all night
  • IFTTT voice-activated trigger, which can control multiple devices at once (on/off)
  • turn a device off every day at X am/pm (e.g., also to help save energy) (link)

Be aware that smart devices and smart plugs consume noticeable electricity.

🔗 Naps

When you are constantly sleep deprived, naps can be a useful tool. When you sleep 10 hours a night, napping just because you don’t feel like doing whatever you’re supposed to be doing right now is not so helpful and will leave you awake at ungodly hours of the day.

🔗 Working Late

If you are a busy beaver surfing an endless wave of imminent deadlines, working late can seem reasonable. Seriously considering the impact that staying up will have on my sleep for days to come (or weeks, if it really throws me off-kilter) has radically changed my calculus. Now, unless I truly cannot avoid it, I won’t work past 10 p.m. Often, working late can be avoided through some proactive effort. Even in a pinch, though, I’ll sometimes decide to just go to bed.

Also, beware and resist institutional forces (sometimes subtle) that encourage or enforce working late.

🔗 Age

This one isn’t really so much something you can do as something you can hope for. Maybe more reasonable sleep hours tend to accompanying advancing biological age?

Luckily, it turns out that graduate school is a great place to age rapidly.

🔗 Acute versus Chronic

Finally, a more conceptual point.

When I first started struggling with my sleep, I viewed it as a temporary crisis. I just had to right the ship, then I could forget about managing sleep.

Now, I see sleep as an aspect of my life that I manage in an ongoing fashion (as simply and passively as possible). I think that’s a healthier and more useful take on it.

🔗 Future Work

Stuff I didn’t do but that might be cool/useful anyways… always the easiest part to write up.

🔗 Exercise

Sometimes, exercise makes me feel tired. I haven’t played with this variable systematically, though.

Something as simple as just going out for a brief walk when you can’t sleep might help.

🔗 General Wellness

Idk. Take your vitamins. Maybe try a standing desk. (Sitting is the new smoking, y’all.)

Maybe just try doing more organized activities in general. In academia land, regularly scheduled seminars (with free food!) might fit the bill. If nothing else, your local Parks and Rec department almost certainly has lots of things to sign up for.

🔗 Do a Sleep Study

Sleep studies can help diagnose serious sleep disorders. Sounds expensive, but maybe your insurance covers it.

Bringing in professional help never hurts. I know at least one graduate student who has benefited from a sleep study.

🔗 Get a Prescription

Prescription sleep aids might be useful to you.

Also, depression and insomnia often live hand in hand. Prescription medications to treat depression (and/or other therapies) can go a long way. I’ve thought about this one a bit, and decided to keep it on the back burner unless I really start to feel persistently and unacceptably impaired.

🔗 Avoid Time Zone Changes

Traveling East/West always throws me off, but I haven’t actively tried to avoid it.

🔗 Blackout Curtains

Yup, this is a thing you can do.

I’m not super into curtains, though, because

  1. I like morning light, and
  2. I inevitably forget to open curtains during the day, which will kill the plants that live in my room.

🔗 Meditation

Counting sheep is straight-up bullshit. It makes me feel insane.

Other meditation practices (that weren’t obviously designed to keep restless kids occupied) might be of more benefit. I hear a lot of chatter about meditation apps, so that might be worth looking into.

🔗 Go to Boot Camp

I hear that a side effect of being yelled awake every morning is that your lizard brain becomes conditioned to insist on getting the hell out of bed every morning.

🔗 More Extreme/Inventive Alarm Clocks

There’s a lot of them. Google it.

🔗 Roll With It

When I was in high school, one of my friends transferred to an online program. Not having to keep any hours in particular, she started reverse cycling around the clock. Her wake-sleep cycles took about 26 hours. So, every 6 days or so she switched between being basically nocturnal to being basically diurnal.

Maybe for you it turns out something like that actually ends up being compatible with good quality of life (or, at least, feels better than wasting hours on vain attempts to fall asleep).

Also, maybe trying so hard to sleep makes your sleep problem worse.

🔗 Let’s Chat

I would love to hear your stories about sleeping in grad school!!

I started a twitter thread (right below) so we can chat :phone: :phone: :phone:

Pop on there and drop me a line :fishing_pole_and_fish:, make a comment :raising_hand_woman:, or leave your own tips & tricks for sleeping better :heart: