As children, we hated going to bed early. We would fight with our parents (or in my case, attempt to negotiate) about our bed times and beg to stay up later. Now, however, going to bed early and getting a decent sleep is a dream come true. Given our hectic schedules and full days of ‘adulting’ the idea of sleeping a full night is very appealing. Yet, if you’re anything like me (a neurotic insomniac) sleep will often allude you and leave you with a restless night of tossing, turning and cursing. And especially given our lives as university students, sleep is even more important. But why is that? And how can we ensure that we are getting the right amount of quality sleep when our heads hit the pillow?
Sleep is essentially the body’s time to recover. While we are dozing off, our body is undergoing muscle repair, memory consolidation and readying itself for the next day. That is why sleep has a large impact on the way we look, feel and how we operate throughout the day. But chuck in cooking for ourselves, unnecessary amounts of study, budgeting our finances, socializing with friends, drinking on the weekend, part-time/full-time jobs and all the other atrocities and responsibilities that come with being a fully-fledged adult, and all of a sudden, a regular sleep cycle becomes paramount. Ideally, an individual (in this case, a university student) should aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep a night. This will allow for the body to fully recover and be in optimal condition for the next day. The ways in which this can be achieved are fairly straightforward, and will also improve your health in a variety of other areas.
- Keep your Bed a SLEEP ONLY zone!
Many students may be forced to live in a cramped, ‘prison-cell’ like room with limited space for study. As a result, students tend to fall into the trap of using their bed as a study zone. Whether this be for comfort or convenience, this is one of the first things to cut out in order to achieve a decent nights sleep. If you make a habit of studying in bed, your brain will begin to associate it with study. Therefore, when you’re trying to catch up on those much needed Z’s your body is essentially still in study mode. Rule to remember; Your bed is for sleep and your desk is for studying!
- Keep your phone away from your bed!
This one is slightly harder to achieve considering our dependence on our phones for living, but is essential for a deep uninterrupted sleep. Consider this; You are in bed, about to drift off when you get a notification on your phone. Endorphins are released in your brain as you realise that someone is thinking about you and wants your attention and you immediately pick up the phone to respond. Well done. You’ve just killed your sleep cycle and now your body has to go through the whole ‘getting to sleep’ process again. Keep your phone away from your bed, or turn it off completely. If it is in fact your alarm, then invest in an actual alarm clock. You’ll thank me for this one later.
- Cut out technology use in the hour before bed!
Surely you have heard this one before. The whole ‘the light from your tv, computer and phone causes cognitive stimulation and revs up your brain, when it should be winding down,’…this is so true! Melatonin is a hormone that signals our brain to sleep, and is delayed when the light from our screens is absorbed through our eyes. This one has a pretty simple fix; read a book before bed and make sure all technology is switched off!
This particular one is my fail-safe. I find that if I am not physically active throughout the day, sleep is harder for me to achieve. However, when I exercise an hour a day, my body desperately needs that recovery time and thus sleep comes quicker. Not only will exercise make it easier to fall asleep, but the health benefits are endless. This one is a definite must!
- Stick to a routine!
Sleep, like anything else, is something that the body adapts to. If you make it a habit of staying up watching You-tube videos until the AM, your body will associate this time as your ‘sleep schedule.’ However, you can train your body to adopt a healthier sleep schedule by going to bed at a consistent time. It may take a while for your body to adapt, but when you fall into a routine of going to bed by say 10:00PM, sleep will come quicker.