Sleep tips from an MSU Assistant Professor

Young woman sleeping in bed in her bedroom
Posted at 11:56 AM, Jan 08, 2024

GREAT FALLS — With the new year, a lot of people will be starting new resolutions that may look like losing weight or spending less money. One resolution worth considering is improving your sleep habits.

“This goal to get better sleep is one that I hear people talk about a lot,” said Dr. Cara Palmer, Assistant Professor at Montana State University, Department of Psychology. “But it's one that people don't always follow through with because it can be kind of difficult.”

Dr. Palmer has spent the past ten years of her life studying sleep. In her most recent study, she sifted through 50 years and more than 150 sleep studies to check the correlation between sleep and mood.

“Some of like the physical feelings that come along with strong emotions, like, you know, your heart beating, maybe you feel it in your stomach, it's just less of those feelings overall,” Dr. Palmer said, “And then people just generally felt more anxious after losing sleep as well.”

Emotions were described as being more muted than anything else when low on sleep.

“Even just losing a couple hours of sleep or even just staying up an hour or two later than usual,” Dr. Palmer said, “it was enough to see effects on mood.”

A consistent sleep schedule is just as important as a consistent amount of sleep, meaning if you need to catch up on sleep, you should not oversleep more than an hour.

“We talk a lot about how much sleep you're getting and that certainly is important,” Dr. Palmer said, “But more and more research is showing that keeping a regular sleep schedule is just as important, if not more important sometimes.”

Naps can be beneficial if done in a smart way. Dr. Palmer says a well-timed nap can be helpful, as long as it is around 30 minutes. She also says not to take it too close to bedtime, because that can affect how you sleep the next night.

In a similar vein, your bedtime routine should be just like your sleeping habits themselves; consistent. Dr. Palmer says you can increase your quality of sleep by having a consistent, calming routine for the last hour of your day. She also suggests only being in your bed when you are trying to sleep, and to do other work or stressful activities somewhere else.

“We start to create those associations where then our bed is no longer just a place for sleep,” Dr. Palmer said, “It's a place where we stay awake and stress about things, or we stay awake and our mind is going and we're very cognitively active.”

Dr. Palmer says that the blue light from phones and other technology can make it harder to sleep, and settings like “night mode” or wearing blue light glasses only filter a small amount of the light.