I wanted to title this post “Things Not To Do In Bed” but my mum gave me The Look when I pitched that idea, so there you go. No more semi-inappropriate titles here.
I’ve always been a bit of a night owl. I love mornings, always have, but for whatever reason I seem to be built for late nights. If I see a sunrise, it’s usually a signal that it’s time for bed. It’s been like that since my childhood, but during my chronic illness years it became a real problem. Spending all my time horizontal and in pain made it even harder to have a regular sleep pattern. I was exhausted all the time, but at night this would happen:
University students are no stranger to the phenomenon of weird sleep patterns. A friend of mine told me, in her first year at Cambridge, that amongst her peers it was considered impressive to pull an “all-dayer”. Another used to schedule a nap before every night out. A third used to stay awake all night watching The Walking Dead and would sleep, head-to-desk, through all their morning seminars. In fact, I don’t think I know a single uni student who doesn’t love to nap.
My first year was also the year that I lived in residence and was in a Canada-UK long distance relationship, which meant not only was I going out more often (and staying out later) but on the nights that I stayed in I would either be studying or Skyping my boyfriend, who was 5 hours in the past yet often would be turning in before I was.
So, why does this matter?
Aside from the fact that getting enough sleep can help you learn, there are plenty of reasons why we need to make sure we get enough snooze time:
- Improved cognition and decision-making. Remember this next time you’re swiping through Tinder or writing a tricky essay.
- Decreased risk of injury. Particularly car crashes and other accidents– according to the Institute of Medicine, one out of five auto accidents in the US are due to overtired drivers.
- Mental health and mood control. Depression and emotional regulation can both be related to the amount of sleep you’re getting. Personally I tend to get a bit wobbly and emotional if I’m really sleep deprived: stressed, wound up, upset, and even a little mean.
- Pain management. This one is really important for sufferers of chronic pain. I know from personal experience that a nap can often turn a really bad pain day into a bearable one. When my pain is especially bad, I notice myself getting tired faster: coping with pain is a drain on your energy reserves, so you use more energy to do simple tasks. A nap can help give you a boost to get through the day.
- Improved immunity. Why do you think Freshers flu is a thing? When you’re tired and run down, people get sick.
So what can you do?
I’m going to say this now: I’m not practicing everything I preach here. Life as a student is busy and stressful and hectic, and sometimes (read: often) that takes over. Commuter students don’t have easy access to their beds, so taking naps between classes isn’t quite as easy for me anymore (though I do have a pal who recommends the COE basement as a decent nap location!).
- Practice better sleep hygiene. It’s important to maintain a routine and get a regulated amount of sleep each night. You feel your best when you have 8 hours of sleep? Aim to get that every night. You work best with between 6-7? Keep it consistent. Contrary to popular belief, it takes about three days to recover from an all-nighter, so you can’t “make up for it” by sleeping in the following day.
- Exile screens from the bedroom. Ideally, that is. If you absolutely cannot avoid using your laptop or phone on or near your bed, try a blue light filter to help minimise the effects screentime has on your sleep (I am writing this blog post from my laptop, in bed, and I haven’t got a blue light filter. I’m the worst. Don’t do this!).
- Cut down on the caffeine. But, you know, being English I’d rather not give up my tea. I am trying to avoid drinking tea in the evenings, though!
- Unwind. Take a few minutes before bed to centre yourself. Switch off the electronics and try doing some relaxing breathing exercises, meditation or yoga/stretching. If that’s not enough, get some help from Mother Nature. I’m a big fan of valerian root, both as a supplement and in tea. Many people swear by melatonin, too. Chamomile and lavender are both very gentle and relaxing, neroli is a natural mood-booster, and there are dozens more to explore. I was gifted this little miracle worker of a massage bar from Lush and it changed my life; the routine of massaging my skin before bed helped me to become mindful of how tense my muscles were, regulate my breathing, and unwind.
- Track your sleep cycles. What are sleep cycles, you say?
Waking up at the wrong point in your sleep cycle could cause you to feel irritable, groggy, and less rested than you did the night before. I use this website to figure out what time I should be going to bed/waking up.
Another thing I’d like to point out: too much sleep is just as bad for you as sleep deprivation! I find that oversleeping gives me headaches due to dehydration, so I’ve started keeping a bottle of water by my bed to make sure I drink plenty before I sleep and when I wake up.
100% honesty: it’s 2:30am right now. I’m writing this from my bed, and I had a cup of tea at 10pm. Do as I say, not as I do, kids. If I took my own advice I’d be such a great role model, I swear. I’m off to sleep now (hopefully) and according to sleepyti.me I’ll get a decent amount of sleep cycles in before I absolutely have to get up and study.