March is a great time to think about how you sleep and what you can do to make it better as Sleep Awareness Week is March 10th to 16th!

Everyone knows that sleep is vital to living a healthy life, but did you know that getting a good night’s sleep before getting a vaccine makes the vaccine more effective?  That’s because sleep is essential to your immune system and when you are sleeping well you are better able to fight off infections and viruses as well as respond to vaccinations.

If you didn’t know that, how about this daylight saving fact: When we “spring forward,” we are decreasing everyone’s sleep by just one hour on one night.  That minor change is followed by the one day every year with the highest rate of emergency department visits for heart attacks.  The day with the fewest emergency department visits for heart attacks?  The day after we “fall back,” and get an extra hour of sleep.

And high schools that have moved their start times later, to 8:30, have found their students to be less tardy, less truant, less depressed and anxious, less suicidal, less likely to have car accidents, and more successful academically.

Did you catch that?  Students who get even an extra 35 minutes a night report fewer thoughts about suicide.  Why is that?  With more sleep comes better communication between the part of your brain that is emotional and sometimes over-reacts (the amygdala), and the part of your brain that provides calm, thoughtful responses to those fears (the pre-frontal cortex).  When your brain is working well, you are simply less likely to feel overwhelmed by your fears, worries and real life problems.

So one hour of sleep change can add stress to your body and your life.  What are you doing to care for your sleep?  How do you encourage good sleep in your life?

Quick, free and painless places to start?  How about turning off all screens an hour before bed?  Then, when you are ready for sleep, turn your phone off entirely (you can use an actual alarm clock for your alarm).  You can also make a big improvement to your ability to fall asleep and wake up well by picking a wake time and sticking to it seven days a week.  If you want to sleep in on the weekend, you can, but only for an extra 90 minutes.  This will make Monday mornings so much more pleasant for you!  Stop drinking caffeinated drinks early in the afternoon.  Most people have no idea how much caffeine is too much and no idea how much caffeine is in that 16 ounce Starbucks coffee (hint: it’s about double the amount in a 16 ounce Red Bull).  And yes, caffeine does weaken your sleep even if you can fall asleep right after drinking it.

Sleep well!  It’s so good for you!

Guest Blogger: Brad Wolgast, PhD, CBSM is a licensed psychologist and the Director of the Center for Counseling and Student Development at the University of Delaware.  Brad has worked in college counseling centers for 20 years and at UD for the last 11.  Brad is working hard to promote and develop awareness around helping students know how to find help for their mental health struggles including suicide.  He is also board certified in behavior sleep medicine and is always happy to talk to anyone about their sleep.