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!

How to combine routines & spontaneity in student life


In yesterday’s TUB-Thump, I gave a bonus tip on planning and scheduling.

It was a bonus tip, because you probably already schedule some (if not all) your stuff.

All this timetabling and commitment to regular tasks is useful. But how do you let a bit of spontaneity into your experience too?

We’ve all had moments when we decide to drop everything and do something fun on a whim. It’s not rare. Last minute decisions can be weekly. Daily, even.

When you take that spontaneous risk, do you get away with it? Or does it bite you on the bum?

Maybe you’re lucky most times. But every time you take the risk, you may not be so lucky the next time.

No matter how “in the moment” you plan to be, you’ve got lectures to attend and essay deadlines to meet.

Here’s the weird thing: Those scheduled events are a good thing.

Seriously. The more focused you are on your schedule, the more spontaneous you can be.

I know that sounds strange, but there’s a logic to it. When you’re in control of your day, you’re able to manage your free time and available gaps far better. You’ll know exactly when you’re at a loose end.

So far so simple. But there’s a big ask if you want it to work well. You need to be in control of YOU.

Just because someone else suggests an impromptu outing or social session, that doesn’t mean you should always agree.

So how do you work out the times when you *can* agree to some impulsive fun?


When you know you schedule intimately, you can rearrange it without fuss. The more you’re in control, the easier it is to make changes as you go along. When an impromptu session strikes, some are clearly possible and others aren’t. And when you’re at a definite loose end, you can choose the impromptu sessions yourself!

Every step of the way, this involves you being in control. Nobody else controls your situation. Peer pressure is a no-no.

Happily for you, peer pressure won’t feel so much like pressure anyway. When others try to overpower your initial decision, you’re swayed through uncertainty. By taking control of your timetable, you quickly know what will budge and what won’t.

If you’re determined to fit in something new when there’s no room left on your schedule, you’ll have to sacrifice something else on your list.

The good thing is, it should be clear what you can sacrifice, if anything.

Take these two situations:

  1. I was about to start working on an essay. I was starting early, so I had plenty of time to take a relaxed approach. It was a hot morning and it seemed like half the student village had decided to make the day an outdoor party. I could tell everyone was in a good mood, because friends were calling up to me and offering me free drink.
  2. I was trying to get my head around some concepts for an upcoming exam. There wasn’t much time left and I was still trying to work out best approaches and draft some test responses. Some of my mates decided to go to the SU for the evening and wanted me to come along.

Guess which of the situations I changed my plans for and which one I didn’t.

With plenty of time in the first instance, I rearranged my schedule so I could enjoy a day of debauchery fun in the sun. And as much as I wanted to go out in the second instance, there wasn’t the same wriggle room.

I had to say no in the second instance. It wasn’t important enough to sacrifice something else, and time was running out for the exam preparation.

Remember, no matter how much you’d like to sacrifice your academic work, that’s not the best plan… 😉

Do you feel in control of your schedule enough to let impromptu sessions into your life? And what’s the biggest thing you’ve ever had to say no to, even though you REALLY wanted to do it?

Sleep prep is a choice. How far will you go to catch the best Zzzzzzzz?

You know the feeling. You wish sleep didn’t get in the way of your life, but you know how fab it feels when you are asleep.

Yes, there are never enough hours in the day. So what can you do?

Lifehack has published “19 Ways to Fall Asleep Fast“, with useful, solid, standard advice.

photo by Paparuchas

photo by Paparuchas

However, you may find some – perhaps most – of the tips hard to follow in a student lifestyle:

  • Limit alcohol?
  • Stop looking at your phone, TV and computer?
  • Go to sleep at the same time every night?
  • Adopt a regular bedtime routine?

Sounds a bit much, eh? No wonder advice on sleep is common, while following that advice is less so.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

If your bedtime routine is causing you problems, a good way to frame the situation is to view it with importance. That is, decide how much impact your sleep (or lack of it…) has on the rest of your life. The part of your life where you’re awake.

Well, where you *should* be awake…

What you decide is for nobody but yourself. View it as your choice. Any change you make is with you in mind. How far you take things is a personal matter.

When you’re tired and struggling to cope with the daily routine, something’s gotta give. You can’t be stubborn and have all the things you’re used to. There is no quick fix.

With care, you can make the most of your sleep and do more with your time. Listen to yourself.

Are you getting enough sleep? Are you getting too much sleep? Are you being disrupted and interrupted in the night? Is it quality sleep? How do you feel when you wake up in the morning? What is your mood like during the day?

Questions like these are crucial to understanding where things are going wrong and what you need to do to get back on track. Sleep accounts for around a third of your time on this planet. What happens in that time has knock-on consequences to what happens while you’re awake.

Do you go to bed when it suits your lifestyle or when it suits your body? If it’s more the former, you may not be doing yourself any favours.

For instance, it’s frustrating that some people seem to be able to sleep for four hours and wake up with a spring in their step every morning, but we’re all different. Some of us need double that just to cope with the basics!

Before you scream with rage, there’s hope yet. With a bit of change and a better routine, you may find that you don’t need as much sleep as you think. Change the quality of the sleep you get, rather than increase the number of hours.

To get you there, take the Lifehack advice seriously, and check out these posts from TheUniversityBlog’s archives to get you buzzing when you’re awake and to calm you down when it’s time to snuggle under the covers:

Goodnight. Sleep tight!

What’s getting in the way of your plan?

How much planning is too much planning?

If you like to plan ahead, but still don’t feel organised, there’s a danger in spending even longer getting your act into gear.  You can obsess over stuff for a week, or even a month, with the intention to plan ahead for every last second of time.

Then, to your annoyance, something comes between you and your plan.  Then another thing gets in the way.  It could be something small, like an important phone call when you mean to be writing.  Or it could be a big deal, like you get flu and can hardly move for a few days.

They aren’t your fault (unless you meant to turn your phone off, perhaps…).  But less important matters also tend to get in the way.  Sometimes we don’t even notice.  Without warning, a whole day has whizzed past and nothing’s been done.  Fast forward a week and you wonder just how the time has flown by.

photo by woodsy

photo by woodsy

Even the most organised person doesn’t have to stick rigidly to their schuedle.  They probably can’t. After all, life happens.

The idea is to work out what activities get in the way, so you’re more aware for preparing future plans.

Each time something unexpected or unplanned gets in the way, write it down and note how long it took before you were back on track with the planned list.  Whether it was self-induced or totally unavoidable, mention it.  Don’t be shy.

This will help you discover:

  • Tasks you hadn’t considered that are part of your regular routine;
  • Necessary time-wasters, such as using the toilet, getting dressed, standing in a queue, waiting for a computer to log you in to a network, and so on (be as brutal as you like…it’s your time that’s being managed!);
  • How disciplined you are in your approach;
  • Stumbling blocks.  Things you thought you could do without, but that you would rather keep as part of your life;
  • The amount of time you want to dedicate simply to relaxation;
  • A more realistic outlook of time and an idea of where you need to start managing time better.

The exercise helps on a number of levels.  You may even realise that the enthusiasm you thought you had could be cranked up a notch. Or you may find a passion you didn’t even know you had.

Time is a strange thing.  There’s never enough, yet we seem to have more time than ever for leisure.  That’s why an exercise like this is vital in understanding just where your time goes.

When you’re done, was it a satisfactory result?  Or is it time to change?

I do this every now and then.  I don’t remember a time when it didn’t make a change for the better.