How a Strike on the London Underground Could Help You Sleep Better – TUB-Thump 016

tub-thump-logo-small

How could a strike on the London Underground help you get a better night of sleep?


In Tim Harford’s new book, Messy: How to Be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World, he talks about an Underground strike in 2014. I remember being in London during the strike. I just walked to and from my destination instead.

But I saw lots of people checking maps and crowding around steps in the hope of finding an open station. Some people were more prepared than others, but you could see this wasn’t quite business as usual.

Harford explains that three economists looked at commuting data during the strike and found that many people had to use a different route to their typical journey.

So far, so obvious:

“But what was surprising is that when the strike was over, not everybody returned to their habitual commuting route. One in twenty of the commuters who had switched then stayed with the route that they had used during the strike; presumably, they had discovered that it was faster or cheaper or preferable in some other way to their old routine…[They needed] an unexpected shock to force them to seek out something better.”

What has this got to do with sleep?

Harford says that mixing up routine with surprise is a good method of discovering new solutions and improvements to your current setup.

As we saw in this week’s main post on TheUniversityBlog, student sleep isn’t best known for its routine. You rarely have to be up at the same time every morning, and it’s not unusual to have some crazy-late nights thrown in.

In which case, let’s turn around the London Underground study.

You’re living with all this randomness in your sleep. Maybe it’s time to inject a bit of routine to that random.

When you know what makes you tick, you’re more equipped to let surprises into your routine without suffering so much.

Here are a few ideas to get you on your way:

  • Wake yourself up on a non-lecture morning as if you DO have a lecture. Focus on how it feels to get up. What are the most difficult parts of getting up for you? How can you deal with these issues so they don’t cause so much of a bottleneck?
  • Commit to going to bed at the same time every night for a week. Do you notice any patterns to be aware of in your less structured weeks?
  • Commit to waking up at the same time every day for a week. Is this easier or more difficult than going to bed at the same time? Can you work out how many hours of sleep work for you?
  • Commit to one more week of getting a set number of hours sleep that you think works for you. Is it eight hours? Six hours? What is the optimum number of hours you need to feel refreshed every time you get out of bed?
  • Go to bed much earlier than you normally would. How easy is it to get to sleep? Do you sleep all night? Do you wake up on your own, or still need an alarm? Ask questions like this. If you’re sleeping the whole time, it could be a sign that you need more sleep than you realise. If you find it harder to get to sleep than usual, maybe you do better at night than in the mornings. If you sleep as long as usual and wake up early in the morning without an alarm, maybe you’re getting the right amount of sleep. Make sure you get about that much sleep every night, whatever time you do it!

Think of other ways of changing up. You may not want to adopt a routine, but testing out possible routines could help you understand your needs much better, even in the face of randomness.

The big takeaway from the Underground strike is that it’s no good having too much routine and no good having too much randomness. Whichever way you sway, try mixing things up a bit occasionally. You may be pleasantly surprised.


Music for TUB-Thump is Life, by Tobu, which is released under a Creative Commons license. Check out more of Tobu’s great sounds on Soundcloud, YouTube, and his official site.

TUB-Thump is part of the Learning Always Network.

Keep being awesome!