Health / Food & Drink

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


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!

A More Useful Guide to Student Sleep


…And why I didn’t mind being called smug

I loved being the last person to bed at night and the first person up in the morning.

My friends didn’t love it so much. I got called smug more than once.

I probably got called a lot worse out of earshot…

On one hand, I was lucky enough to only need around 6-hours of sleep a night, and I could do the odd 3- or 4-hour night without fuss.

On the other hand, I was only able to do this because I knew what made me tick. I’d already done the testing and suffered the consequences under control.

For example, one night I decided not to sleep at all. I wanted to spend the following day noting how I felt.

And that morning, I went for a haircut. I nearly fell asleep in the chair. The sound of electric clippers next to my ears wasn’t enough to stop me nearly dropping off.

The takeaway…I can’t get away with no sleep. Dagnabbit!

Another time, I went two nights without sleep. How long would it take me to recover?

When I finally did go to bed, I slept the moment my head hit the pillow.

Yet just six hours later, I was up and about as if nothing had happened.

Lots of small experiments like this were great in the run-up to university.

So why is this a more useful guide to student sleep? Basically, because this isn’t the usual advice to find a regular routine and get rid of distractions.

That type of advice is available elsewhere. And I’ve gone over those sleep issues on here before.

Student life can be different. Sleep can take a back seat. And when your timetable doesn’t have a regular structure, it’s hard to stick to a routine anyway.

That’s not to mention the impromptu late-nights and last-minute arrangements.

Understand how you work, with or without a routine

Clearly, a lack of rhythm is a pain.

Luckily, you can still do yourself some favours.

First off, it’s important to know how much sleep you need. Also, work out when you most like to get that sleep. Do you work better with an early night, or do you naturally stay up late?

If you don’t know these things, spend a few weeks testing the ground:

  • Spend a week going to bed at the same time every evening;
  • Now spend a week waking up at the same time every morning;
  • Now spend a week sleeping the number of hours you *think* you need. Do you wake refreshed, or might you need a longer stretch?

Thursday’s TUB-Thump will have more ideas on doing this.

When you know what makes you tick, you can tackle each situation as it arises. You don’t need a regular routine to make things work.

Learning from the teachers

Don’t knock regularity though. It’s still better if you can manage it.

Some of the most disciplined students I knew were those in Teaching.

During work placements, the teaching crowd had to be up early in the morning, ready to be taken to their school. Sometimes, this meant being up around 5am each day.

They didn’t have a choice.

But they didn’t complain. Well, not much!

It was clear from these student teachers that the only way to get past problems of unstructured craziness was to deal with it directly.

If you don’t take action, nobody else will. Your sleep is only a mystery when you don’t engage with it yourself.

My teaching friends still had late nights and managed to have impromptu fun. The difference was that they knew when to do it and when not to. Occasional was okay, regularly wasn’t.

And, perhaps most importantly, they called the shots. Nobody else.

How to deal with 6 more student-specific sleep issues

No matter how much you’re calling the shots, there are other issues that get in the way of your slumber.

From the people you live with, to the self-sabotaging thoughts in your head, you’ve got a lot to contend with.

TUB’s got you covered. Here’s how to address some of those student-specific sleep issues:

1. Early morning lectures when you’re a night-owl

When your timetable has two or three days of early starts, make the night before a calm one, even if you do stay up late.

The cards are already stacked against you, so don’t make it worse by going out, drinking loads, or doing anything that’ll keep your brain racing for longer than it needs to.

Prepare as much as you can for the following morning, so you have it sorted in advance. Clothes, books, equipment, packed bag, food…Everything you can think of so you don’t need to deal with it when you’re tired.

That way, bleary-eyed, you won’t have as much to think about for the early start.

2. Getting woken up by loud housemates

Some issues are out of your control. Noisy mates fall into that category.

When you expect your (supposed) friends to make a rowdy entrance in the early hours, it’s time for some damage limitation.

If you’d rather not wear earplugs, you could use comfortable earbuds (ones you’re okay to fall asleep while wearing) and listen to ambient sounds that drown out the outside world. A couple of my favourite apps are White Noise+ and Rain Rain.

And don’t forget to lock your door and windows. Yes, I’ve known situations where people are disturbed by drunken housemates who have climbed in through an open bedroom window.

That said, you probably don’t need to worry as much about an open window if you live on the third floor.

It depends on how determined (or sensible) your mates are…

3. Staying up later than you intended

Not all late-night events are planned. We’ve all been there.

But instead of thinking, “Just a bit longer”, switch to a different mindset. Think, “How much am I going to regret this in the morning?

In other words, get out when you feel the longer-term benefits of sleep outweigh the short-term joy of being out.

There will always be the odd event that you absolutely must stay at until the end. But these are rare. When your body is screaming out for sleep, do what it’s telling you!

4. You didn’t listen to your body anyway

Okay, it’s emergency time.

When you’ve not had enough sleep, you may still have a trick up your sleeve.

Enter the nap.

I’ve talked about powernaps before in these posts:

But there’s so much more to the nap than that.

Fortunately, someone else has put together a long article about getting the right type of nap for you.

How to Take the Perfect Nap for Performance, Mood and Memory

Thanks, Helmut!

5. You’re sabotaging yourself and you don’t even know it

What time in the day do you work best? Whenever it is, there may still be room to improve.

There’s a term called self-handicapping. If you’ve not heard of it, here’s a quote from Wikipedia:

“An example of self-handicapping is the student who spends the night before an important exam partying rather than studying. The student fears failing his exam and appearing incapable. In partying the night before the exam the student has engaged in self-defeating behaviour and increased the likelihood of poor exam performance. However, in the event of failure, the student can offer fatigue and a hangover, rather than lack of ability, as plausible explanations. Furthermore, should the student receive positive feedback about his exam, his achievement is enhanced by the fact that he succeeded, despite the handicap.” [SOURCE]

A team at Indiana University found that people who identify as night-owls are more likely to self-handicap during their evening time of peak-performance. Similarly, those who prefer the mornings will self-handicap most in the morning.

Are you choosing to lose sleep, or stay in bed longer than you need? Don’t let your worries lead to self-sabotage.

6. Your gut is trying to tell you something

You may not have indigestion, but there are other ways your body can tell you to improve your digestive health.

Your enteric nervous system is your “brain in the gut“. It can mess about with how you feel. Digestion problems may be keeping you up at night.

Lifehack says you may get a better night of sleep when you drink tea, do yoga, and eat more healthily.

My favourite site for information on healthy eating and avoiding preventable illness is

Summing Up

No matter how much sleep you need and no matter how your schedule looks, you can make sleep work as a student.

It’s not always as simple as going to bed early enough and getting up at the same time every day. But at least you have options beyond this.

There’s no need to feel tired in perpetuity. We all get the occasional rubbish day, but don’t suffer every day when you don’t have to.

For all the temptation there is to stay up as late as possible, it’s no good doing it when you suffer the rest of the time.

The most effective way to find what works for you is to put in the effort in the first place. The more self-aware you are, the more you can feel like anything is possible.

One day soon, maybe your friends will be calling you smug too. It might just be the happiest day (and night) of your life so far.

And if it’s not, at least you’ll be sleeping soundly.

Beauty and the Beastly Spend

After I read how students are spending hundreds of pounds on beauty products, I quickly worked out how much I spend each year.

Lancaster students are apparently the biggest spenders, with an average of £1,109 a year going on beauty products.

(photo by sparklerawk) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Looking good. But are you a beauty super-spender? (photo by sparklerawk) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I don’t know what qualifies as a ‘beauty product’, but I’ve included soap and deodorant in my list of products. Do they count? I’d label them more ‘necessary’ than ‘beauty’.

Even if they do count, let’s just say I’m definitely not in the same league as the average students questioned in the survey. From the results, you may be horrified to meet me as ‘beauty’ appears not to be my middle name…

Because I don’t spend £1,109. Lancaster have certainly beaten me here.

I don’t spend £500.

Not even £100.

I seem to be insanely cheap. My total spend on ‘beauty’ products (including soap and deodorant, remember…) is a paltry:

Twenty-two pounds a year.

£22. That’s it.

It’s down to my eco-living attempts and a tendency to ignore products with a worrying ingredient list. Back on campus, I probably spent more like £150 a year. A very rough guess, but clearly a lot more than I do now. Still nowhere near the figures compiled in this latest survey.

Next year I’ll be spending over £30, because I have to buy a new post-shave moisturiser. How very dare I?

What’s your yearly beauty spend?

Savvy Shoppers Save – 15 Ways to Keep Your Food Bill Down

Freshers rejoice! We’re coming to that time of year when universities across the land welcome new students through their proverbial gates.

And what’s one of the first things a new student needs to do? Food shopping.

Research by found that meals are frequently skipped at uni. More than half the students polled had no more than £2.50 to spend on food each day. Best be prepared to make your cash go as far as possible. There are ways to save money without resorting to missed meals.

Before I started uni, I didn’t do much food shopping. As a newbie, armed with a limited budget and self-catered accommodation, I had to learn fast. In just a few weeks, I had a crash course in savvy shopping.

shopping trolley (photo by Funky64)

Shopping can be grim, but it’s got to be done. (photo by Funky64) CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I’d like to offer what I learned in my quest to save money. Here are 15 tips to keep your bill as low as possible. You’ll be shopping like a pro in no time.

1. Don’t go in hungry

Physical and mental fatigue serve you poorly. You’ll end up buying everything in the shop if you’re not careful. Go when you’re thinking logically about grub, not when you’re primed to pick stuff up as if you’ve been starved for days.

2. Spice things up

Change flavours easily and enhance regular meals so they always have an element of surprise to them. All you need are a few herbs and spices at the ready. Pickle, chutney and sauces also enhance your cheap eats.

3. Learn a few meals to use over and over again

I recently decided–on a whim–to start baking cakes. After just a few dedicated hours*, I had a standard loaf cake recipe that I can now change to suit my mood. I can return to the same technique every time, replacing sultanas for blueberries, date syrup for sugar, and so on.

You can do this for any meal. Get a basic stir fry, salad, curry, or whatever you fancy. When you know what you like, you can do it all the time. With a few tried and tested dishes, you don’t need to think about what you’re doing any more. No more fussing and no more reliance on ready meals.

*Several hours spent over a number of sessions. Not all at once. I didn’t bake a dozen cakes back-to-back, you know!


4. Shop when the offers come out

Most supermarkets reduce short-dated stock at particular times in the day. Each place is different and some shops slash the prices while others are stingy. If you find a place with good discounts, find out when the big reductions happen and, if possible, shop at those times for cheap grub.

If you don’t know when the big reductions happen, you could be cheeky and ask. I’ve asked in the past and most staff told me straight away.

5. Shop on a strict list

List approaches didn’t work for me at uni, but it may for you. Loads of shopping advice suggests you should stick to what you need, make a list, and stick to it so you don’t pick up all sorts of other items as you browse.

Special offers get overlooked this way, but at least you won’t be tempted to go off track and spend more than you had planned.

6. Plan meals in advance

At the start of each week, spend a few minutes working out what food you want.

Setting the menu in advance is useful for several reasons:

  • you won’t have to waste time thinking about what’s for dinner every day;
  • buying will be strategic and not a mish-mash of stuff you may or may not get round to eating;
  • it will limit the temptations because you’ll better know where you stand;
  • you can plan batch cooking efficiently (see Point 7, below).

7. Batch cooking

I didn’t do this enough. Don’t make my mistake!

Cook a large dish that’ll keep you going for several meals. One cooking session, three or four meals, one happy student.

Put the portions in containers either for the fridge (if you’re going to eat it over the next few days) or freezer (if you’d prefer to space it out).

Yes, I know fridge and freezer space is a problem in many a student household. I’ve experienced it first hand. My thoughts go out to you at this difficult time…

8. Get groceries delivered

Save time and temptation by getting a delivery service to bring your food to your door.

Be prepared to spend a few quid on delivery. If the extra charges annoy you or you can’t easily spend enough to qualify, ask housemates if they want to join in. That way, large minimum orders are easier to work with and delivery charges can be split in half (or more, if everyone wants to join in!).

Remember to factor in your own time and transport costs. For instance, if home delivery costs a pound more than your bus fare, that extra pound may be worth it for the time and bother saved in the process. Many companies offer big discounts on your first order too.

9. Cook with housemates

Talking of joining in, why not team up for cheap eats? It’s not always feasible, but some students shop together and make a lot of meals as a group. It’s usually cheaper if you can manage it, but you need to be around at the same times and enjoy a similar selection of food.

If you’re one of the few who can reliably tick those boxes, you could even get a cooking rota going so you can take turns to make meals. Everyone else you know will be jealous of you and your foodie mates.

10. Go to the market

If you’re near to a weekly market, farmers’ market, or even a local farm shop, consider going for cheap, quality fruit and veg. You may bag yourself a bargain compared to supermarket prices.

Many universities have a fruit and veg sale on campus or in the SU. This is a good place to start if you want to test out something new, or if you live on campus and don’t want to carry heavy foods all the way through town.


11. Compare prices

Never assume something is cheap. Be on the lookout and keep tabs on how much your favourite foods usually cost. That way, you know when a bargain is genuine.

And just because it’s a larger pack doesn’t mean it’s better value for money. I often see bigger so-called ‘value’ packs that cost more than a couple of the smaller packs. Don’t take anyone’s word for a deal except your own.

12. Be brand fickle

When faced with ten different makes of the same food, the default decision is usually to go with the brand you’re used to.

Challenge yourself. Go for a cheaper option if there is one. Don’t be fooled by colourful packaging and fancy marketing words. Some supermarket brand versions of a product can be made by the manufacturer with a premium price product.

It’s all to play for. The worst that can happen is you’ll go back to the original brand next time.

13. Buy loose groceries

Drop the packaging. Buying loose items is often cost effective. Less waste is also an environmental plus.

I’ve heard people say that loose food feels less hygienic and that the produce may not be as high in quality. In reality, you should wash your fruit and veg, no matter how it is presented. As for quality, buying a product that has been placed in a bag for your convenience isn’t a magical sign of better quality. Presentation can deceive.


14. Find alternatives to your faves

I love chips. For years, I would buy frozen oven chips and get through a pack way too quickly. And each time I walked past a fish and chip shop…Let’s be honest, I didn’t walk past, I walked in. The lure of chips had me in a flash.

Chips aren’t the most expensive item in the world. But it’s still cheaper to buy a big bag of spuds and make them yourself.

The only thing you need to do is chop the potatoes into whatever size you want. No peeling necessary. Just pre-heat an oven dish with a bit of oil, chop the potatoes up and chuck ’em in the oven. If you’re feeling adventurous, season with a few herbs, a bit of smoked paprika, and a pinch of salt.

Cheap chips. Yum.

When you want an alternative way to make your favourite food cheap, a quick Internet search will provide loads of quick fixes.

Look, if you can make a chocolate cake in 5 minutes, there’s no stopping you do anything. Right?

15. Shop around

My friends thought I was mad, but I went to at least four different supermarkets on a regular basis. I’d rush around the one my friends were at, then dash in to the others. Luckily, the shops were all next to each other.

My task was to find all the special deals and only buy what was on offer. I regularly came back with double the shopping to everyone else, whilst spending roughly the same amount.
I wouldn’t call that mad. I’d call that determined.

It’s also the reason why I didn’t like strict lists…

What have I missed? If something worked for you and I’ve not mentioned it, let us know. Let’s get the advice out there. The more, the merrier.