7 tips to top sleep, 3 tips for staying awake

Sleep is important. We all know that. But sometimes we wish it wasn’t such a bother. Out clubbing until 2am and back up at 7am for lectures isn’t helpful, but it happens. Regularly.

While I can’t help with sleeping problems regarding copious amounts of alcohol (you’re either well awake or knocked out…live with it), here’s seven snippets of advice for most other ‘student vs. sleep’ situations:

Yawn

 

1. Get up! – Seriously. After 20 minutes of tossing and turning, just get back out of bed and do something calm – like reading – without lots of mental and physical strain. Try to keep the light low by using a bedside or desk light, rather than the main room light. After a little while, you will hopefully feel yourself getting a bit more tired and drowsy. When you feel like you can’t achieve much more, get back to the comfy bed and take yourself on a well-deserved journey to the dreamworld.

2. Let go of your worries – The act of switching off is all part of getting to sleep. If you have a major concern on your mind, see the picture of that concern in your head and try to push it away in your head, so it becomes only a very small picture, far away from the front of your thoughts. Let it move away as far as it will go, until it’s just a speck. Does that feel a bit better? I hope so.

3. Bright ideas in the darkness – It might be time to switch off, but what if you’re in bed and you remember it’s your mate’s birthday tomorrow and you need to get a card in the morning? What if you have a brilliant idea for an essay that you must retain for later? Rather than keep thinking about it and let it swirl around your head for ages, keep some post-its or similar next to the bed so you can write down anything you like. When it’s written down, you can go back to the switching off.

4. Breathe easy – Basic relaxation techniques are a good way to speed up the processes involved in nodding off. Lay as comfortably as possible, move any objects or excess bedding that might be disturbing you, close your eyes and focus on as little as you possibly can. If you’re still focusing on stuff, use the tip above and write it down.
Now, take a deep breath and hold it for a moment before letting it out slowly again. Take another deep breath, holding it once again briefly and then breathing back out. Keep breathing in and out slowly and deeply. Focus on a deep calm around you that keeps you positive and free to relax. Laying there, concentrating on your calm and happy breathing, you should be able to wind down in preparation for a refreshing night’s sleep.

5. Don’t keep studying/writing/working until the last minute before bed – The more mental gymnastics you do before bed, the less likely you’re going to drop off to sleep quickly. Give yourself a few moments peace just before shutdown. Some people like to do nothing, while others like to read an easy-going book (no disturbing or exciting novels that get the pulse racing, and no complex academic texts either…they count as studying). Spend 10-20 minutes on whatever helps calm you down toward a more fulfilling sleep. It doesn’t matter what it is, just find your calming influence and do it. Strangely, when I needed to calm down at night, I’d listen to a bit of drum and bass before nodding off. It worked wonders.

6. Dispel the lights, the noise and the time (three tips in one!)a. You turn the light off in your room, but make sure that there aren’t standby lights and LEDs lighting it up too. They will all make a difference to your attempts to sleep, even if you don’t think you notice them.
b. If you’re not the last to bed and there’s still lots of noise, try investing in some earplugs. They’re pretty cheap, so it’s well worth it. Also, some electrical equipment can make a high-pitched sound when plugged in at the mains. If possible, unplug them. Fortunately, not everyone can hear that noise…so if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re lucky!
c. Most of us have a clock next to the bed, or within arms reach. That’s fine in itself, but don’t keep looking at the time every couple of minutes, wondering how long it will take for you to fall asleep. If you keep doing that, your mind won’t let you switch off and you’ll become more anxious and awake with each look. Forget the clock. It’s your enemy at night.

7. Listen to your body – Some people need 8 hours sleep. Others need just 5 (one of the most famous people to claim this being Margaret Thatcher). However, there’s a lot more to this sleeping business than working out a number of hours.
Your body is a great communicator if you’re willing to listen to it. Try to tune in to what your body wants you to do. If you begin to feel tired, take steps to wind your body down and get ready for bed. If you’re wide awake and full of energy, it’s no use going to bed just because you think it’s the right time.
I know some of you won’t like that tip, because I’ve seen tens, if not hundreds, of students fighting their body’s urge to sleep, just in case they miss out on something great happening when everyone else is still up and about. But you’re probably better off just going to bed, because your body won’t let you enjoy yourself half as much anyway. If you’re desperate, check the first tip below…

Now three ways to make the most of being awake:

1. Powernap – Still very much underrated and unknown, if you’re tired, you can benefit from a short spell of about 15 minutes in bed. Just time yourself for 15 minutes and relax. It doesn’t matter if you start to go under or not, the short rest really helps to take away tiredness and lets you get on with whatever it was you were doing. Just remember to get up again…It should be easy enough to do, but if it feels too much of a struggle, you might want to start listening to your body a bit better!

2. Get some light in (or get a light on) as soon as you can after sleeping – The light is a natural sign for your body to wake itself up and get going.

3. Establish a ‘getting up’ routine – If the mornings are difficult times for you, don’t leave it to chance. Learn to do things without thinking about it. If you have your wallet/purse, watch, phone, and so on in a particular place every night before bed, you can set up a routine and not forget anything. You can have your clothes ready for the next day so you don’t have to consider what to wear when you’re still half asleep (I’m sure many a fashion disaster would be stopped this way).
In short, do anything you need in order to establish a habit of getting up. It gives you bonus waking up time and less stress. Can’t say fairer than that.

Down here, we all float

17 comments

  1. Thanks, Michael.

    My optimum powernap times are between 12 and 20 minutes. Recently, I’ve set a timer for 18 minutes, which works fine.

    I agree that 30 minutes is too much, although I did read a journal article (no web link, alas) that stated some benefit up to 90 minutes of napping, although it did suggest the shorter naps gave most productivity benefits. The longer naps were verging on a main sleep, which loses the point somewhat.

  2. Great list…I have found that if I take a 20 minute powernap, I am much more productive and have more energy than if I didn’t take the nap. Of course, if I sleep longer than 20 minutes, I wake up even more exhausted than before.

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