Many college students aren’t getting enough sleep, and the students at UNH are no exception.
That’s why University of New Hampshire (UNH) Health & Wellness has implanted “napercise” once a week during the month of March, also known as National Sleep Month.
Wellness educators/counselors Dawn Zitney and Shannon Seiferth run the program and hope to spread the word about healthy sleeping habits. Seiferth will be running the next two sessions on March 19 and 26 in the Thrive office in the Hamilton Recreation Center.
“I have trouble sleeping, so I came to get tips,” senior philosophy and history major Jennifer Gallagher said. She found out about the event through the Health & Wellness website and felt that she could probably learn something about how to sleep better by coming to the event.
The session that I attended consisted of myself and three other students, with Zitney leading the group. We were brought into the meditation room, which fit our four meditation mats comfortably. We each got a thick pillow and blanket as well as a sleeping kit. The first things we did as a group was take a look through the sleeping kits Health & Wellness put together for us.
“We do a lot of research on what gets in the way of UNH students being able to get a good night’s sleep,” Zitney said. “Being in college means that we may be living in environments that aren’t always conducive to a good night’s sleep.”
First, there were things that could physically help us sleep: a sleep mask, earplugs, a pouch of lavender and a bag of tea. Then there were information sheets, such as 20 Ways to Sleep Well, a Chill Journal, a Sleep Journal and a Dream Journal. These all included advice on what to do when you can’t sleep, like getting out of bed for a few minutes to do something relaxing, or how to stay asleep, like putting yourself in a relaxing and quiet environment.
Zitney advises students to never study, be on the computer or even watch TV in your bed. “The bed should only be used for sleep and sex,” she says.
Zitney helped the four of us through guided meditation. With gentle music in the background and a calming voice,
Zitney told us to listen to our bodies and let it tell us what it needs. We went through each part of our body, right from our toes to our head. We needed to focus on the sensations we were experiencing: Were our hands tense? How does our calf feel on the mat? How does our head feel on the pillow? Are we comfortable sleeping on our backs or were our bodies telling us to move on our side on stomach? What do we smell? What do we taste?
Eventually, Zitney’s voice faded out and the four of us slept for 20 minutes, the recommended amount of time to nap. Zitney stayed but assured us that she wasn’t going to stare at us while we slept and that she was going to meditate once the 20 minutes started.
I could hear tiny snores and deep breathing coming from the other students. The air smelled like lavender and our meditation mats felt so nice you could melt into it, yet firm enough that it would support you. I slept in my usual position, on my side with my arms tucked to my chest, and tried to enjoy this one hour of relaxation in the middle of a hectic day filled with classes and homework.
At the end of the 20 minutes, Zitney woke us up by talking in a soothing voice again, telling us to wiggle our toes or fingers just to get the body awake. Usually, whenever I take a nap I just fall asleep in my bed and set an alarm to go off right before my classes. Zitney warns that this isn’t a great way to nap because it can lead students to wake up feeling worse than before, a feeling I knew all too well.
I definitely noticed a difference in the way I felt while I was waking up. I didn’t feel groggy or still sleepy. Instead, I felt pretty awake, probably more awake then I had felt all day. The other students and I stretched for a while when we woke up and Zitney asked us about our experience, noting that we all look much better rested. The other students and I folded up our blankets and walked back outside where there was no mood lighting or aromatherapy, but I felt ready for my next class.
If students are concerned about their sleep, Zitney and Seiferth encourage us to make an appointment with a clinician or a wellness coach, as well as attending the Sleep Expo on March 21. Appointments can be made online at www.unh.edu/health. There are also drop-in hours to meet with a sleep coach Wednesdays from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. at Health & Wellness.