Writing your dissertation can be a long and arduous process, albeit one with significant rewards. It can also cause a serious amount of apprehension and anxiety…enough to interfere with our sleep.

Here’s the catch: unless we’re sufficiently rested, not only does it affect our ability to learn but our ability to retain what we learn. Hence, a critical part of effectively and efficiently navigating the dissertation process is good sleep hygiene.

According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School:

Research suggests that sleep helps learning and memory in two distinct ways. First, a sleep-deprived person cannot focus attention optimally and therefore cannot learn efficiently. Second, sleep itself has a role in the consolidation of memory, which is essential for learning new information.

So what is a graduate student to do while working multiple jobs, raising children, maintaining a household and writing a dissertation? Sleep is often first on the cutting board. The problem is this: everything else suffers, including your ability to complete your dissertation.

The suggested amount of sleep per night is 7 – 9 hours. About one-third of us get less than that. So how can we improve the amount of sleep we’re getting, regardless of the amount?

Maintain a regular sleep routine. Even if you’re not able to get at least 7 hours of sleep, take your sleep time seriously. Consistency is one of the keys to a good night’s sleep.

Embrace the power nap. Naps are amazingly restorative and do some of the job of missed sleep, including improving our memory and acuity. But not all naps are created equal. An ideal “power nap” is about 10 – 20 minutes. 

Enjoy caffeine in moderation. Yes, coffee can be your best friend when studying for your dissertation improving memory and sharpness, but only in moderation. When consumed excessively, it affects your sleep. Remember this general rule: caffeine stays in your system for up to 10 hours. So do the math and move away from the mug so as not to interrupt precious sleep.

Avoid the screen before bed. I’ve left the hardest tip for last: discontinue the use of all devices ideally several hours before bedtime. The blue light emitted from computer screens (and televisions too) has been proven to disrupt sleep.

Consider blue light solutions like screen filters or computer glasses or discontinue all device usage 2 to 3 hours before bed.

Embrace the joy of reading. As a student, you undoubtedly have actual written material to read (aka books). Reading is not only relaxing but constitutes another method of learning – a real win/win.

Insomnia tip: If you are lying awake for more than 5 or 10 minutes, get out of bed and complete a small task (household or otherwise) or try reading (an actual book) while sitting in a chair. Don’t fight against insomnia; it only exacerbates it. You’ll find once you’re ready to lie down again, its much easier to drift off.

The takeaway: Take sleep seriously, just as you would diet and exercise. The research supports its critical part in our learning and mental health. And it simply feels good to be well-slept!