With exam season almost upon us, Alexander Glover suggests ways to improve your sleep.
MODERN culture tends to promote the idea that sleeping is time wasted. If sleep is the cousin of death, then ain’t nobody got time for that. But we do need to get enough sleep (seven to nine hours for those aged 18-24) which becomes increasingly difficult as assignments mount and study days remaining dwindle. Stress and anxiety impact our sleep patterns but it is pivotal that we know how to combat this.
The Mental Health Foundation say that sleep helps to restore our brains and bodies, and is vital for maintaining good mental health. When we don’t get enough sleep, our mood goes downhill, our memory lapses and our decision-making degenerates. A lack of sleep scatters our focus, stops us from thinking flexibly, and makes us prone to anxiety. How can we study under these conditions?
As the Christmas exams approach, sleep management will be more important than ever for students hoping to thrive. So, how do we get more of this natural remedy? Here are nine ways:
1. Prioritise sleep.
The problem with sleep deprivation is often not that we can’t sleep but that we don’t go to bed. Thanks to our hectic college schedules, we usually don’t have much free time until late at night. We know we should sleep but we’d prefer to be doing something else. Choose sleep.
2. Audit your evening activity.
By keeping track of how we spend our time for a couple of days we may discover that we waste a lot of time doing things we don’t like or don’t need to be doing. If we eliminate unproductive tasks (Facebook) we will have more time for the things we enjoy.
3. Plan ahead.
To conquer all that university throws at us, a good plan is certainly needed. On days when we flourish, the seed has almost always been planted the night before. Make sure you don’t leave your planning until bedtime because our brains amplify fear when we’re tired. The same task that could keep us up at night shouldn’t seem as daunting the morning after a good night’s sleep.
4. Make gradual improvements.
Most of us can’t afford extra time in bed in the morning so the only option we have is to go to bed earlier. This isn’t easy, especially surrounded by so many distractions. To make the transition easier try going to bed five minutes earlier each night until the ideal amount of rest is reached.
5. Say no to Netflix.
Netflix’s auto-play feature is the enemy of sleep. Try saying no to the next episode even after an epic cliff-hanger. In the olden days, they had to wait a week for cliff-hanger resolutions. We should be able to wait until tomorrow.
6. Exercise early.
Staying active is important all year around and can’t be forgotten at exam time. Getting a workout in or playing sport earlier in the day will make your body tired by the time your head hits the pillow. Just make sure you finish exercising at least three hours before bedtime to allow your body to relax.
7. Shut down.
Artificial light emitted from our beloved screens is bad for our sleep. This ‘blue’ light tricks our hormones into thinking it’s earlier in the day and so our body tries not to fall asleep. Ideally we should disconnect an hour before trying to sleep but if this is not feasible at least dim the brightness. The iPhone now has a ‘Night Shift’ feature which does this for us.
Why not swap technology for paper and read to relax? The best material to go for is anything that doesn’t make your brain work too hard. Read something light-hearted that will allow you to switch off afterwards, don’t bring your college readings to bed!
9. Easy on the stimulants!
Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol all affect how well we sleep. Eliminate or try to reduce intake as bedtime approaches. Instead of a coffee, try a camomile tea which studies have found reduces anxiety, leaving us in a better frame of mind to sleep.
With our busy schedules, we need to remember that sleep is time well spent. Creating enough time for sleep means we’ll be better at what we’re working on, we’ll make fewer mistakes, and we’ll maintain our creativity.