Sleep. It’s one of those love-hate things for me as a student. On the one hand I love it when I’m tired, particularly after a long day of classes and work. On the other, I hate when I need it but I have to stay up to finish an assignment or I try to sleep and I end up lying in bed for 3 hours because my brain won’t shut down. Turns out many people share this problem. Not being able to sleep well, or at all, is a common ailment for students across the globe. In fact, guess who is one of the most sleep deprived populations? That’s right, it’s university students!
You’re probably not surprised by this if you are a student. You have a lot going on with classes, exams, and assignments. If you add extracurricular activities like sport or working a part time job then it only adds to the stress. Unfortunately, without regular and peaceful sleep the stress can increase and it can affect a number of aspects of your life.
The importance of sleep
Sleep is deeply connected to our learning process. At night the brain takes information that we learn through the day and stores it in our minds. Without sleep, the brain can’t process what you have learnt and it is not efficiently stored in your long term memory.
As students, a lack of sleep can have a large effect on our ability to learn during the day. A tired mind finds it harder to concentrate in class, and skipping lectures because of tiredness can become a problem. Without the correct amount of sleep, students have a harder time retaining the information that they have learned.
These low energy levels also result in decreases in productivity and efficiency. This can be really difficult for an overwhelmed student. Especially during busy periods like during exams. It can also weaken your immune system. Becoming ill when you need to get a lot of work done or attend a lot of classes can really impact your studies. You can keep your immune system healthy by giving your body a good amount of rest at night.
How much sleep?
The ideal amount is different for every individual depending on age, health and activities. On average (and suggested by Stanford University) university students should aim for approximately 8 hours of sleep each night. Each student will be different, however, and you’ll want to find the right amount that works for you.
The problem with university students is that often we will stay up late trying to finish assignments or work that we have due. We tell ourselves that we’ll get less sleep tonight and catch up tomorrow. But playing “catch up” on sleep is about as useful as a calculator in an English exam. In truth, it can make your focus worse. Too much results in low energy levels and you are right back to square one: tired.
Students are also often tempted to sleep in on the weekends as well, but this can have the same effects as too much sleep. Think of it like jet lag. If you go to bed at 10 o’clock every night and wake up a 6 o’clock every morning, then your body has 16 hours to expend the energy it has built up during your sleep. You might do this every weekday so your body gets used to it. Then you sleep in on the weekend. You wake up at 11 o’clock in the morning. Your body still wants 16 hours to expend its energy. So when you try to go to bed at 10 like you usually do, you aren’t tired. You go to bed later, wake up later and the cycle viciously repeats.
This is why it’s so important to have a regular sleep schedule. You need to expend the energy during the day so that it can be built up again at night. When you set yourself a schedule, aim to go to bed and get up around the same time every day. If you want to sleep in on weekends or your day off, it’s recommended that you don’t sleep more than an hour more than the time you would usually get up.
Class work and study is one of the biggest things keeping students awake at night. Trying to meet an assignment deadline by pulling an all-nighter can seriously harm your concentration the next day. It’s a good idea to develop regular study habits to make sure you complete your work on time. You can avoid late night study by aiming to do a bit of work after you finish your classes each day. Complete your homework or study earlier in the evening for an hour or two. This gets it out of the way early, and gives you time to unwind before bed.
Relaxing and unwinding is key for a good night’s sleep. I’ll start with something I know many people won’t want to hear.
Screens are your enemy.
At least, when you want to sleep they are! The blue light from screens simulates daylight and can keep you from becoming tired. The general rule is to avoid technology half an hour before bed. Find a relaxing activity like reading, knitting or colouring in to help you unwind.
Stress is also something that keeps students awake. When we go to bed, thinking about something that has happened during the day or worries about the future can prevent us from sleeping. In this case, you can use destress activities such as writing in a journal or making a to-do list. Anything that will get your thoughts out of your brain.
For me, planning helps me to destress as it organises my thoughts and gives me a clear plan so I don’t have to worry about anything. It helps calm any anxiety I have about a busy day or week that I’m facing.
If you aren’t tired, you won’t sleep. There’s no point lying in bed awake. Try getting up and doing more of your unwinding activity until you feel tired and ready to sleep.
Finally, don’t underestimate the power of herbal tea when it comes to sleeping well.
I say herbal because black and green tea contain some amounts of caffeine (which many people forget). However, naturally caffeine free teas such as chamomile are great for sleep. My go to is a cup of passionfruit tea. Both have calming effects on the bodies nervous system that can relax you before bed and help with peaceful sleep.
Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep, especially for students. Concentration, productivity and memory can be greatly improved with a regular sleep schedule.
Have any other tips for sleeping well? Leave a comment below!
This article is based on my own research and experience and should not replace the advice of a medical professional.