Sleep is vital to our mental and physical wellbeing, and good sleep can help to improve your uni experience! Read on to find out why sleep is so important and to find ways to improve your sleep.
Why is sleep important?
- We regulate our emotions while we sleep, so going without can leave us more tearful, short-tempered or angry.
- Lack of sleep can contribute to mental illness. When we are sleep deprived, our brains cannot store positive memories well, whereas we can store negative memories just fine. Longer term, it can be harder for us to feel that things are going well because we have forgotten the good things that have happened to us.
- Sleep is essential for your studies: you need deep, slow-wave sleep to store what you've learned in your long-term memory.
- Lack of sleep makes concentration difficult and makes it harder to keep focus throughout the day.
- Sleep for creativity: dream sleep, or rapid eye movement sleep, helps us to process information creatively.
- Lack of sleep can hinder your ability to form connections between your different thoughts and ideas.
- Sleep boosts your body's defences: we produce more antibodies on a good night’s sleep. Sleep well to fight the dreaded Fresher’s Flu!
- Lack of sleep can increase blood pressure and stress hormones, which can cause you to sleep less well and feel more stressed.
12 Top Tips for Better Sleep
- A comfortable bedroom environment - comfy bedding, comfy sleepwear, not too hot, not too cold (around 16-18°C is ideal), not too noisy.
- Get some exercise, but try not to overdo it. Try some regular swimming, cycling, or walking. There is some evidence to suggest that some kinds of exercise are really good in the evening for helping you sleep. Keep cardio (running, swimming etc.) for the day time, then try strength-based exercise for the evening (e.g. yoga, stretching, resistance exercises) to help calm your mind and body ready for sleep.
- Relax properly with a bedtime routine: have a warm, not hot, bath, make a herbal tea (unless you find this wakes you up to use the toilet), read a non-work book or listen to relaxing music.
- If something is bothering you and there is nothing you can do about it right away, try writing it down. Tell yourself you can deal with it tomorrow and put it away somewhere out of sight and reach. Find a good distraction technique to help you switch your brain off and avoid intrusive thoughts (see helpful links at the bottom of this page).
- Sleep only when you feel tired. If you find that you cannot sleep, get up and do something you find relaxing. Avoid lying in bed worrying about not being able to sleep.
- Blue light from screens disrupts sleep rhythms, and we generate a hormone to wake us up by engaging with screens so blue light filters won't be enough. Avoid using computers, phones, or tablets late at night.
- Only use your bed for sleeping. Try not to use your bed to work, use a computer or read academic texts. If you need to work/eat/socialise in your bedroom, try covering up your daytime activities to give your brain a clear signal that it is time for sleep.
- We all process caffeine differently, and some people will need 10 hours for caffeine to pass through their system. Struggling to get to sleep? Cut out that last tea or coffee of the day and see if that makes a difference.
- Don’t drink too much alcohol. It is a sedative so may help you fall asleep, but you won't get all of that good deep sleep we need for repair and renewal so you will likely wake feeling unrefreshed. You will also almost certainly wake up during the night.
- Do not eat or drink a lot late at night. This causes us to generate the hormone that keeps us awake and keeps our brain and body from being able to get to sleep. Finding you are hungry or thirsty come bedtime? Try having a snack or some supper without too much sugar around 1-2 hours before bed, such as toast and warm milk.
- If you have had a disturbed or restless night's sleep, don’t sleep in the next day as it will make it harder to get to sleep the following night.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Establish regular times to have meals throughout the day, and get out into the daylight to reinforce your biological rhythms.
Some people with medical conditions find that their sleep is affected. This includes some mental health conditions, and long-term health conditions that include symptoms of fatigue and/or pain. Following the above advice will still be useful for you, although you may find you have to make adjustments if experiencing a period of being unwell or a flare up of your condition.
If you are taking medication for a health condition, it is worth knowing that this may also affect your sleep. Some medications can take several hours to work through the system and so the timing may affect the ability to fall asleep at bedtime. If this is the case for you, it is worth discussing with your GP or whoever prescribed it to you, to see if timings for taking the medication can be adjusted. Your medication has been prescribed for a reason and not taking it can have severe consequences: do not stop taking medication without medical advice.
If you believe you have a sleep disorder that is affecting your sleep, or are experiencing a new sleep behaviour that you haven't had before, speak with your GP in case there is a medical cause. Many sleep disorders, including nightmares and sleep walking, are exacerbated by poor sleep, so resist the temptation to stay awake to avoid them as you will find when you do sleep that you are more likely to experience them.