16 WINTER 2015 PHI KAPPA PHI FORUM
and our organs repair themselves from normal day-to-day wear and
To experience the benefits of sleep, we need to ensure that we develop good sleep habits. Although many people may want to quickly turn
to pharmaceutical aids for sleep, there are behavioral changes we can
make that often quickly improve sleep. But many people are unwilling
to make the necessary changes on a regular basis. Modern society provides too many distractions — video games, TV, and the Internet. It is,
after all, more fun to stay up at night than to go to bed at a designated
time, even when we know we have to get up in the morning. There is
no easy answer; we must choose to make sleep a priority.
June J. Pilcher is an alumni distinguished professor of psychology and president of Phi Kappa
Phi at Clemson University. She was the 2011-2012 Fulbright-Freud Scholar at University of
Vienna and the Sigmund Freud Museum, and is a Fulbright Specialist for Global Health from
2015 to 2020. She has taught courses on the human brain, sleep, and psychology for more
than 25 years. Pilcher publishes regularly on sleep, sleep deprivation, stress, shiftwork, and
health in industry standards such as Chronobiology International, Psychological Science, Journal of
Psychosomatic Research, Psychophysiology, Sleep, and Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. She has been
principal investigator on research grants cumulatively worth more than $2 million. Earlier in
her career, Pilcher was on the faculty at Bradley University and was a research psychologist
and captain at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. She earned degrees from University
of Southern Mississippi (B.A. in psychology and B.S. in computer science) and University of
Chicago (Ph.D. in biopsychology). Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Catch your zzzz’s
1. Keep regular sleep/wake times even on weekends. The
more complaints you have about sleep, the more strict
you should be about these times. Of the two, it is most
important to maintain the same wake time. Most of
us will automatically stabilize our going-to-bed time
if we force ourselves to get out of bed at the same time
each morning. For many people, just stabilizing their
sleep times for a week or so is enough. The brain and
body quickly form the habit to go to bed and wake up
at the designated time.
2. If you have trouble sleeping at night, do not nap. If
you are sleeping well, then napping can be useful if
you are particularly tired; however, do not nap within
about six hours of your normal bedtime.
3. Try developing a pre-sleep ritual or routine that
signals your body and brain it is time to sleep. This
is something we regularly do for young children but
may not do for ourselves.
4. Try not to eat within three or four hours of bedtime.
Eating tells the system to get active and digest food,
which will conflict with the signals from the brain
telling the system to slow down and go to sleep.
5. Maintain a quiet and dark sleeping environment,
using ear plugs and eye shields if needed. Fans, white
noise generators, and window blinds can also be useful to maintain a good sleeping environment.
6. Avoid using the snooze button on the alarm. Snooze
buttons may feel like a good idea, but what they do
is allow us to drift in and out of Stage 1 sleep and not
really rest, but also not be really awake. It is better to
set the alarm and promptly get out of bed! Once we
are out of bed, our brains will arouse us and quickly
help us become awake and alert.
7. If you are in bed for thirty minutes or so and not able
to sleep, get out of bed. Do something boring. Do not
do anything fun or active. Read a textbook or some
rather weighty scientific tome of knowledge. That will
put almost everyone to sleep. After reading for about
thirty minutes, try going back to bed. If you still cannot sleep, get out of bed again and try reading again.
In this situation, it is really important to get out of bed
at the correct time in the morning. It is best to allow a
sleep debt (or desire to go to sleep) to build during the
day so that the next night the body and brain will be
ready to sleep at the designated sleep time.
Never sleep at the wheel
One more important issue about the nature of falling
asleep. It is invisible to us. We all know this. We may be
in bed thinking about going to sleep, maybe starting to
feel a little sleepy, and the next thing we know the alarm
is going off. That is great when we are in bed with the
intention of going to sleep. However, if you are driving
a car and your head bobs, please remember that is Stage
1 sleep. You are asleep and not responding to environmental stimuli. Your car is driving itself and you cannot
see the tree ahead of you or the child on a bicycle. We all
know when we feel sleepy at the wheel of a car. What we
don’t know is when we will actually fall asleep. Don’t risk
it. When you are sleepy, please choose not to drive.
Low voltage -
8 to 12 cps -
1: 3 to 7 cps -
12 to 14 cps -
sleep spindles and
1/2 to 2 cps -
delta waves >75µV
Low votage -
random, fast with
Examples of brain waves during sleep