Sleep Trouble

Are you having a hard time falling asleep?

Are you finding yourself getting anxious and worried?  Take a deep breath...Exhale... Everyone struggles with insomnia at times.  Although it may be frustrating or worrisome, remember - nothing awful will happen if you get very little sleep tonight.  You may be tired, cranky, or not as able to do your best tomorrow, but it happens to us all.  It is also important to remember that the more stressed and upset we become, the harder it can be to fall asleep.

However, right now, let's focus on tonight.  We'll work on helping you relax, which can help slow down your thoughts and quiet worries, making it easier to fall asleep.  

Let's work on developing your breathing.  Deep breathing is important for slowing the pace of your mind and body.  Click here for a guided audio exercise from Serenity Yoga's website.

If you'd like additional guidance in relaxation, we can focus on releasing tension and stress from your body. Click here for step-by-step instructions from the counseling center at Hobart & William Smith College. If you think an additional relaxation exercise would be helpful click here.

You can also access free, relaxing music on a 24-hour on-line radio station.

In addition to following the tips on this page and learning about causes of insomnia and tips for improving sleep (click here), you may also want to attend the “Un-Stress Yourself Workshop” held weekly at Well Woman, where you can improve your relaxation skills and develop new techniques.

In addition, you may wish to make an appointment at Furman Counseling Center to work through these difficulties.

Good Sleeping Habits

The structure of college life can make it quite difficult to get the sleep that our bodies and minds need. The deadlines that hang over our heads, the ever changing schedule, the endless opportunities for excitement and fun in the city, and the pressure to do it all can lead to behaviors and patterns that contribute to insomnia.

One of the cardinal messages for battling insomnia is this: the more you worry about insomnia, the less likely you are to fall asleep. This makes sense since insomnia is most frequently caused by stress and anxiety. Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to sleep. Instead, trust that if you provide your body and mind with the tools they need, you’ll be able to settle into a regular rhythm of sleep. We’ve provided a list of these tools below.

Everyone struggles with sleep sometimes. This difficulty may last just a few days or weeks, or may become a chronic problem. People may also struggle with different aspects of sleep:

•   Some people struggle with falling asleep
•   Others find that they wake up repeatedly during the night
•   Others find that they wake up too early and can’t fall back asleep
•   And some may sleep enough hours but may find that their sleep is not restful

Other causes of insomnia may be more related to our patterns and behaviors before sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine offers these tips to improve your sleep.


•   Do try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This is crucial for setting your body’s clock and developing a consistent rhythm of sleep.

•   Develop some relaxing rituals every night before bed. Stop studying with enough time to do something quiet and relaxing - listen to some soothing music, take a warm bath (but NOT a shower, which can wake you up), have some herbal tea, or read for pleasure.

•   Use your bed for sleep only. Don’t study, read, watch TV or eat in bed. You want it to be a place that is only associated with sleep.

•   If you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed. Again, you want to associate your bed with SLEEP, not laying there feeling bored or worried. Get up and out of your bed. Try doing something relaxing or boring. Return to bed only when you feel sleepy again.

•   Exercise regularly in the afternoon or early evening. Avoid vigorous exercise in the 2 to 3 hours before bed.

•   Do have a light carbohydrate or dairy snack before bedtime. Avoid chocolate or sugar right before bed.

•   Do try some relaxation techniques. Read the top of this page for some guided-relaxation audio.

•   Do make your bedroom quiet, dark, and a little bit cool. If it’s too bright, try using a sleeping mask. If it’s too noisy, try using a fan or white noise machine.

•   Leave a pad of paper next to your bed. Make a “to-do” list before going to bed to get worrisome thoughts out of your head. If you wake up with ideas, or something you forgot to do, write it down to help you let it go.


•   Don’t take naps. They can prevent you from getting a better night’s sleep later at night. If you do nap, limit them to 30 minutes. Never nap after 3 PM.

•   Don’t have caffeine after 3 PM.

•   Don’t go to bed hungry or full.

•   Don’t have alcohol or nicotine in the hours before sleep. They negatively interfere with your body’s natural sleep rhythms.

•   Don’t “Clock Watch”. Staring at the clock only intensifies stress and worry, heightening insomnia. Turn the clock away from you.

•   Don’t oversleep. You may have the urge to “catch up” on sleep if you didn’t get much the night before. Resist this temptation – it will often lead to poor sleep the following night.

Stress is the most common cause of insomnia. If you find that you are still struggling with sleep after trying these suggestions, you should work on ways to reduce stress and anxiety.

Chronic sleep difficulties can sometimes be related to other causes. Some of these factors, like anxiety, depression, or other emotional difficulties may require more treatment and support. Talking to a counselor at Furman about these difficulties is an important first step. Learn how to make an appointment. If you are uncomfortable with this option, consider talking to your medical doctor, advisor, clergy, or other helping professional.

If you are not sleeping and are nonetheless feeling highly energetic for several days in a row, this may be a sign of another underlying condition. Consult with a helping professional.


Sleep Aid Links

Many students have trouble maintaining regular sleep. We have provided a few links that will give you more information about how to strike a balance between wakefulness and rest.  Information provided by the National Sleep Foundation and Well Woman.

ABCs of ZZZ's - When You Can't Sleep

Healthy Sleep Tips

Getting Your Zzzzz's

More information can be found on the National Sleep Foundation website