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Black and white photo of person sleeping

We know that the right amount of sleep improves cognitive function, restores your energy, and improves your focus and attention span. At the moment however, it appears we’re really having a lot of trouble getting a good night’s sleep.

There isn’t a set answer to solving your sleep problems but there are a number of areas you can explore and hopefully this blog can help with a few of them.

Environment

Is your room too noisy, too bright, too hot, or cold? Think about how you can sort these things out before bedtime as the last thing you want to be doing is messing about with radiators, opening and closing windows or knocking on flatmate/family member’s walls at 2.00am (the middle of the night is never going to be a good time to have these chats). For most people keeping objects related to work/university out of your bedroom is near impossible but if you can, do try and reduce these (phones, laptops, relevant books etc.) as this strengthens the mental link between your bedroom and sleep. Make the most of natural light too as it helps keep your body in a natural cycle – let in the sun first thing on a morning and get outside for your breaks during the day.

Stimulants

Try to reduce your caffeine intake before bed as this can have a big impact. This means coffee but you might also think about tea, chocolate, cola (or any fizzy drinks really). We know this can be hard around exam/assignment time as you might be using energy drinks or sugar to stay up for cramming, but a good night’s sleep will do much more for you than trying to write assignments at 3.00am.

How much are you smoking before bed? Nicotine is a stimulant too so try reducing that before bed if you can.

Many people think that alcohol or cannabis will help them get to sleep when they’ve been stressed out about work and whilst it is true that they can knock you out, the quality of your sleep won’t be great and can leave you feeling drowsy and unrested even after long periods asleep. It’s much healthier for you to sleep less without using these substances than having more hours of drowsy unrested sleep from alcohol or cannabis use.

Pre-bed Routine

Try and settle into a nice pre-bed routine so your body and brain are ready for sleep, even five to ten minutes of reading before you sleep can make a difference (though try and avoid screen use as this wakes your brain up). Getting into your night-time clothes, brushing your teeth, and establishing a regular routine can trigger your brain into recognising that it’s time to wind down. Avoid any activities that are physically or psychologically stimulating before bedtime, as these alert the brain for action. If you’re going to exercise, try and make it relaxation or yoga focused and save cardio activity for earlier in the day.

Naps

Napping during the day is very tempting (who doesn’t like an afternoon nap) but it will impact on your sleep schedule. If you find that you’re struggling to get to sleep then try and limit your daytime napping. If you have to nap, keep it short and before 5.00pm.

Worry

We all worry from time to time and what we worry about changes depending on what’s going on in our life. With this in mind, it’s natural to be worrying more at the moment. This short presentation on managing worries around sleep looks at a few different techniques you can use to manage these worries when they impact on sleep including:

  • Understanding why we worry (and what we might do by accident that makes this worse)
  • How writing down your worries can help
  • “Cognitive shuffling” and labelling your worries

Worrying about sleep

One of the biggest causes of sleep disruption from worry is staying up all night worrying you’re not getting enough sleep. Although seven to nine hours of sleep a night is ideal, don’t worry if you’re not always getting this, as some regular sleep is better than none. You will always be getting more sleep than you think you are (even if it’s disrupted, broken sleep). It is incredibly rare to experience any short-term health problems from lack of sleep so instead of worrying about how long you’re asleep for, focus on making the sleep you do get as comfortable as possible.

If you need any more tailored advice, please contact the Student Mental Health and Wellbeing service. 

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