Getting a Good Night’s Sleep in PA School

By Jessica DelloStritto, PA-S2

Feb. 29, 2016

Does that statement seems like a cruel joke or an impossible feat? Well you’re in luck; it’s not impossible! There are many facets to achieving wellness during your journey through a Physician Assistant program and sleep was one that I truly struggled with when starting the clinical portion of my training. Quickly, I learned how difficult it was for me to take care of patients when I wasn’t taking care of my sleep properly.

It is no surprise that getting an insufficient amount or quality of sleep impacts you physically and mentally. Many of us have experienced this poor sleep first-hand in our undergraduate studies and beyond. Not only does it impact your ability learn and recall information, it can impact your GPA and your overall mood. In addition to academia, there are risks that come along with prolonged poor-quality sleep habits including an increased risk of heart disease and obesity. During graduate school getting a solid 8 hours every night, particularly on a surgery rotation, may be an unobtainable goal but practicing good sleep hygiene can help improve the quality of sleep you are able to obtain.

Sleep hygiene is defined by the National Sleep Foundation as “a variety of different practices that are necessary to have normal, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness.” Some of these practices are more challenging during rotations, but creating an individual plan that works for you can increase your quality sleep, decrease daytime somnolence, and make you a better well rounded PA student. Sleep hygiene behaviors include:

  1. Have a regular bed-time and wake-time. This seems to be the most daunting change, particularly if your schedule is changing frequently or on-call. If your body can get used to a pattern of sleep/wake time, even on the weekends or days off, you will give your body a good foundation to work from for quality sleep.
  2. Avoid screen time before sleeping. The blue light from TVs, laptops, and cell phones makes it more difficult for your body to understand that its time to wind down. These items are engaging and tend to keep people awake longer. Netflix binging before bed is a poor choice for sleep hygiene.
  3. Avoid studying in bed. Your bed should be designated for the 3 ‘S’ activities: sleep, sex, and being sick. You should try not to associate it with any other activities. This sounds like you’re trying to teach a small child or an animal but you need to train your body to understand that bed = sleep.
  4. Exercise. Regular exercise is great for overall wellness but also for sleeping well. The caveat is to try not to do strenuous exercise within a few hours of “bed time”.
  5. Eat a healthy and balanced diet. This is a very important aspect of general wellness but the timing of eating can be just as important for sleep hygiene. Avoiding foods that are stimulants a few hours before bedtime can help you sleep easier. Particular foods to avoid include caffeine, alcohol, and spicy or sugary foods.
  6. Sleep in the right space. Again this may be difficult if your rotation takes you away from home or staying overnight in the on-call room. If able to control certain aspects of your environment the goal is a cooler, quiet, and dark room. That may mean bringing ear plugs and a sleep mask along during away rotations.

Taking care of yourself in PA school is vital to your ability to be a successful student but also to be an effective healthcare provider. Changing your habits is challenging, but making a few changes gradually will allow the hours you are able to get some zzz’s into quality sleep.

Jessica Dellastritto

By: Jessica DelloStritto, PA-S2

Mount Union Physician Assistant Program