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.

5 Great Ways to Improve Your Grades (That Don’t Need Extra Studying) – TUB-Thump 009


Study tips go way beyond the studying itself.

Sometimes all it takes is sitting somewhere else. Or having a refreshing cup of tea.

And that’s what I look at in Episode 009 of TUB-Thump. 5 ways you can put your best foot forward (not just by having a walk!) and build the best mindset for your study.

Ready to get those good habits going? Happy listening.

Here are the show notes for the 12-min episode:

  • 01:30 – Simple tips, so long as you commit to them and build these useful habits.
  • 01:25 – Tip No.1: Have a quick walk. It’s the only exercise you need to get those cogs turning in your head.
  • 02:10 – Tip No.2: Stop with the all-nighters. The most important of the tips, in my opinion… Yep, it’s my usual rant. 😉
  • 03:20 – Tip No.3: Shift your location regularly. Find as many different areas as possible to alternate with. Even if you only visit the library to work, sit in different places within the library. Build your own ways of mixing up where you study.
  • 04:30 – Tip No.4: Get the right sleep for you. Listen to your body rather than the voice in your brain that’s tempting you to stay up as long as possible!
  • 06:45 – Tip No.5: Drink tea. Go crazy and make it loose leaf. Green teas, oolong teas, etc. The extra time spent making loose leaf (just a few seconds) is well worth it for taste if nothing else. It’s funny just how much you can change the flavour based on the amount of leaf you use, the time you brew it for, the temperature you brew it at, and so on.
  • 09:10 – Bonus Tip! List things, plan things, schedule things. Obvious, yes. But also challenging.
    Are You a Planner or a Structured Procrastinator?

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 Sort Out Your Sleep (and Stay Awake): TUB-Thump 003


One of my most popular posts on TheUniversityBlog is about sleeping (and staying awake). Episode 003 of TUB-Thump revisits the piece and gives you the lowdown on how to get the best sleep you can.

Here are the show notes for the 16-min episode:

  • Find out why some people probably hate me (01:25)
  • Follow along with the original post: “7 Tips to Top Sleep, 3 Tips for Staying Awake
  • Ambient noise app (iOS) – White Noise+
  • Ambient noise app (Android & iOS) – Rain Rain
  • Keep a pen and pad by your bed. Write your thoughts down before bed so you can safely leave them until the morning, and make a note of any inspirational thoughts you have in the middle of the night. A pen and pad is the brain-dump by your bed.
  • Some of my favourite guided relaxations and meditations – MassageASMR (especially Tibetan singing bowls), Marie Forleo’s 10-minute mantra meditation (with MP3 download), Headspace (paid service, but well worth checking out if you like guided meditations).
  • Powernaps rule! I suggest 18-20 minutes for the most refreshing session.
  • A future episode will take a look at student-specific issues with keeping a regular sleep schedule. What are your biggest sleep challenges?

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 SoundcloudYouTube, and his official site.

TUB-Thump is part of the Learning Always Network.

Keep being awesome!