Whether you live in halls of residence, in a shared house or at your family home, sleep can be much disturbed while studying at university. I personally struggled a lot whilst living in halls during my first year of my undergraduate degree, and then later on in my degree when the stresses of upcoming exams kept me up at night. Now well into my second degree and having lived in both halls and a shared house, I have learned a lot about good sleep hygiene and wanted to share my tips which may help if you are struggling too.
Natural sunlight, as well as many electronic devices, emits a lot of blue light. Blue light makes you feel alert and suppresses the release of melatonin, our main sleep hormone. Ideally we should have lots of blue light exposure in the mornings to make us feel awake and improve our attention, but then this should be limited in the evenings to allow us to feel drowsy and help us fall asleep.
A morning walk is a great way to get a good dose of blue light early in the day. Otherwise open all the curtains when you wake up and sit near a window while you have breakfast or study. My desk at home is by a large window so I can get plenty of natural light during the day. In the evenings, close the curtains and switch your devices to dark-mode to limit the amount of blue light you’re exposed to. This should align your circadian rhythm (a.k.a. “body clock”) and help you get a good night’s sleep.
Cold and quiet
To fall asleep, your core body temperature needs to fall by about 1°C. Keeping your bedroom cool by turning the radiators down/off and wearing loose, light pyjamas will allow you to lose heat and drop your body temperature, reducing the time it takes to fall asleep.
If you have considerate housemates, explain to them how you’re struggling to sleep and ask them politely to keep the noise down once you go to bed. If this isn’t the case (which it quite often can be), opt for ear plugs.
Don’t consume caffeine after lunchtime ideally. While everyone’s sensitivity to caffeine differs, it has a half life of anywhere between 1.5 and 9.5 hours so even once you have stopped feeling the effects of caffeine, it might still be negatively impacting your ability to rest. Be mindful that caffeine isn’t just in coffee – it’s also in chocolate, teas and soft drinks.
Avoid alcohol. It may initially help you to fall asleep but your overall sleep quality will be much poorer and you won’t feel as well-rested the following day.
Try get into a routine of getting up and going to bed at the same times every day, including the weekends. A huge lie-in on a Sunday might sound tempting but it will only make waking up on Monday morning even more difficult.
Don’t overthink it
The biggest factor that kept me awake at night was worrying about not being able to fall asleep and watching each hour pass and fretting over another hour of sleep lost. “If I fall asleep now, I will get x hours sleep” was constantly running through my mind until it was almost daylight on some occasions.
What helped me was realising that even if I do have one bad night’s sleep, it’s not the end of the world. Remind yourself that you will fall asleep when you’re ready and, if your body desperately needed rest, it wouldn’t be keeping you awake. Distract your mind from worries and overthinking with a book before bed or fall asleep listening to a podcast. I find podcasts, as long as they’re not too stimulating, a great help and most podcast apps even have a sleep timer so they will stop playing after a set period of time.
If you have a big day the next day, such as an exam or a job interview, get organised as much as possible the night before so you can fall asleep knowing you are prepared.
See your GP
While many people suffer from disturbed sleep and may benefit from the above advice, if your sleep is seriously impacting your well-being and ability to function, see your GP. Sleep disorders cannot always be managed with good sleep hygiene so it’s important to recognise when things aren’t getting better and get proper medical help.