We cannot underestimate how important good sleep is for academic performance and our physical and mental wellbeing. If we get less sleep than we need then we become tired, irritable and less able function. Lack of sleep also reduces our ability to concentrate, remember and think creatively - all of which are vital for academic work. This in turn can impact on our mood as we feel less able to cope with life, which in turn increases anxiety and disrupts our sleep further. All of this usually stops once the 'sleep debt' is repaid.
It can be difficult at the start of term to establish a good sleeping pattern. There are lots of parties or conversations in people's rooms that go on late into the night. You may also be sleeping in a new room in halls or a student house and your sleep may be more disturbed while you get used to your new environment.Don't worry if you find this happening to you. Student life does settle down after the first few weeks and once you catch up on your sleep you'll be fine.
Here are some tips on how to improve your sleep and establish a good sleeping pattern:
Make sure your bedroom is an ideal place for sleep. Remove any sources of stimulation, use heavy curtains to block out light and make sure your bed is comfortable. Many people find that laundering their bed clothes more regularly at times of stress can make their bed feel more welcoming and can improve sleep.
Go to bed and get up at regular times, 7 days a week. This will help to condition your body to sleep properly at night. Avoid napping in the day even if you feel tired.
Don't eat late. Avoid rich foods high is sugars and fats and drinking caffeine late at night. Some people find that hot milk and honey can encourage sleep.
Studying before an exam or assignment deadline is of course important. However, studying just before you go to bed will stimulate your brain and increase your anxiety levels just when you want them to be lowered. Leave a two hour gap between finishing study and going to bed.
TV, Games, The Internet
TV and computer screens stimulate the part of your brain (the amygdala) that controls anxiety. You should leave a gap of at least one hour between watching a screen and going to bed.
Exercise helps to get rid of the adrenaline that anxiety stimulates; it also regulates breathing and encourages muscles to relax.It is tempting during busy periods to cut out other activities such as exercise. But in doing so you will reduce your ability to function and perform academically. Find time to exercise regularly during the day and make sure you are getting at least 2 hours of cardio-vascular exercise each week. However, you should avoid exercising late in an evening. Allow time for your body to recuperate and relax after exercise before going to bed.
Again it is tempting during busy periods to stop socialising so you can focus on study and it certainly wouldn't make sense to party every night. But we all need social contact with other people and spending time with friends and family can help to reduce anxiety. Plan to meet up with people whose company you enjoy, for a sensible period of time, without it impacting on your studies.
Sunshine is a natural anti-depressant and fresh air helps to stimulate our senses. A brief walk outside can help raise mood and lower anxiety.
Music has been found to alter mood more quickly and effectively than anything else. Find some music that raises your mood and helps you relax and listen to this shortly before going to bed.
Showers / baths
Having a shower or bath 20 minutes before you go to bed can help your body to relax and make it easier to fall asleep.
Alcohol and drugs
It can be tempting if you struggle to get to sleep to use alcohol or drugs. While this may help you fall to sleep, as your body metabolizes the alcohol or drugs later in the night, it will wake you up and make it more difficult for you to get back to sleep. Using alcohol and drugs in this way is also likely to impact on your mood and ultimately raise your anxiety levels further