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The importance of sleep to study…and beyond

Importance of sleep

A good night’s sleep should not be underestimated at any time but when you are trying to delicately balance work, family, hobbies and study, it is even more important.

Sleep is just as important a part of your success and health as other parts of your day like eating, exercising, studying and working. Just as you prepare and plan your study time or work time to optimise the benefits, have you thought that you might need to invest a little more in your sleep?

If you do not sleep well or if you have poor quality sleep, there may be something fundamental that needs attention. If it’s ongoing it may well impact on other parts of your life in a detrimental way and this needs to be looked at. Poor sleep has been linked to wider physical and mental health implications such as diabetes, depression, obesity, high blood pressure amongst others. Not only these but our moods can deteriorate, we can get clumsier, but critically for any of us studying and working, our concentration and memory retention is lowered. A lot of our hard work may therefore be being sabotaged by our sleep cycles. Anyone who has listened to the Freakonomics podcasts may have heard two episodes of the economics of sleep. Many of those with poorer sleep patterns had lower economic and educational outcomes. These are all very tangible effects that should not be ignored.

If you feel you are not sleeping properly, you can certainly try to address environmental and lifestyle factors in the first instance. It could be that you are unfortunately doing this to yourself but little changes may well improve your sleep. One of the main things to note is that mental stimulation and sleep are just not compatible.

1.       Don’t work or study in your bedroom

It’s really important to separate your leisure and relaxation space from your workspace. If you are working through course notes or a work project propped up on your pillows, you’re probably not working very productively but crucially you are blurring the lines for your mind between the two activities. You may not be able to switch off and have trouble getting to sleep or poor sleep.

2.       Keep your sleep space organised

Your mind will get frazzled in a cluttered, hectic physical space. Try to do a little neaten up to make it a pleasant sanctuary at night time: hang up clothes, neaten up the piles of papers and books, have as soft lighting as possible, make your bed in the morning. That way when you walk in at bedtime, it is restful which will relax your mind.

3.       No screens

Any kind of screen in the bedroom is a no-no. The blue light in devices like television screens, tablets, smartphones and energy saving light bulbs are proven to disrupt our day-night rhythm. Effectively you are telling your body and mind that it’s daytime, activity time. To avoid temptation to tweet that witty musing at midnight, just leave all of these devices in another room. Read a book, flick through a magazine or newspaper if you need to wind down your brain after the day. And what’s more, you’ll probably really enjoy the mental retreat.

4.       Have a bedtime

It’s really important to establish a rhythm. Our bodies and minds love routine. The hours between 2am and 6am are when your body is best at healing and regenerating after the rigours of the day so this is when you should really try to be asleep. Going to bed at a set time each night is a really positive way to encourage good sleep. There is an adage that an hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after, so it’s well worth trying to get to bed and lights out by 12.

5.       Have a good pre-bed routine

Don’t do too much just before bed. Again, if you’re busy right before bedtime, you won’t have a lot of time to wind down before you need to be asleep, plus you might find your heart and mind racing. You might think physical exercise is a good way to get tired, but that 10km run at 10pm isn’t such a good idea. Pull it back to 8pm and your body will have time to cool and slow down. Basically before you go to bed you should try to do calm, leisurely activities: reading, TV in another room, a stroll around the block, a phone call with a friend…anything that tells your mind it’s now time to switch off.

6.       Limit fluids before bed

It’s fairly obvious that what goes in must come out! Don’t drink too much just before bedtime. Avoid in particular caffeine and alcohol as they are too stimulating.

7.       Temperature and comfort

The temperature and ambience of your bedroom is important: you will wake up if you are too hot or too cold, if the room is stuffy, your covers are too hot…simple changes like more comfortable pyjamas, opening the window a little to allow fresh air, a better quality duvet or even a new mattress might all be excellent investments.

Good sleep will make you feel fresher, more energetic and motivated, as well as improve your mental concentration and physical health. With all these factors in place, you may be setting yourself up to perform better at work and study tasks which can lead to better professional outcomes too. As a former insomniac myself, I can attest that making the changes is well worth it. Feeling like the walking dead at work and at social functions is really not very nice. Try the small changes first and see how much better you’ll feel (and hopefully how much better you’ll do too!)

Good luck and sleep tight!

(If you need information about sleep clinics around Ireland, see your GP or visit https://irishsleepsociety.org/index.htm)