It’s World Sleep Day on 18th March 2016: intended to be a celebration of sleep, and this year the slogan is “Good sleep is a reachable dream”! About 25% of us struggle with our sleep, and this can negatively affect our health and wellbeing in many ways. We should be aiming for about 7 or 8 hours per night, but it’s well known that many students are missing out on a good night’s sleep-probably the most powerful performance enhancer in the world. It’s not unusual for students to work longer than they sleep, especially in the run up to exams.
So how can you stop your sleep suffering at times of stress? There are some basic dos and don’ts. First alcohol, which is both sedating and stimulating, so although we can use it to fall asleep, drinking close to bedtime makes us more likely to wake up in the early hours. Second caffeine and stimulant drugs: it’s best to avoid these within 6 hours of bedtime and some of us find cutting caffeine out completely during the day can help. Third, LCD phone and tablet screens last thing at night: they emit “blue light” similar to sunlight, confusing our body clocks. Fourth, we should avoid taking a nap during the day however tired we are, as this disturbs our body rhythm. Fifth, regular daytime exercise (but not too near to bedtime) can help us feel more tired and relaxed at the end of the day. All of these general tips for sleeping better are often called “sleep hygiene” and more detail about them can be found at www.moodjuice.scot.nhs.uk/sleepproblems.asp
Whatever the initial cause of our poor sleep, worrying about it, about feeling tired the next day and about how this might impact on our life can often make the problem a lot worse. Once this situation arises, the trick can actually be to accept our anxieties. Dr Guy Meadows has written “The Sleep Book“, an excellent self-help manual with clever exercises to prevent intrusive anxious thoughts from disturbing sleep, such as giving our worries nicknames and learning to merely observe them. The Student Counselling Service runs mindfulness groups, which can also help students break their bad sleep patterns. If you feel that your sleep problems are significantly impacting on your physical and mental wellbeing and self-help and counselling don’t feel like enough, the GPs at Students’ Health Service can advise you further. It’s important to prioritise sleep, because without it University life can definitely be more stressful and less productive.