Are You Sleeping The Right Way?

The life of a student can be a busy one. You’re encouraged to join loads of societies, attend all your lectures, revise and still find time to have a few great nights out every week.

With all these activities demanding time, it’s understandable that students may fail to get the recommended minimum of 7 hours sleep a night. In fact, a survey conducted by the Tab revealed that philosophy students are the only group achieving over 7 hours, with architects averaging a measly 6.38.

Missing out on sleep can contribute to obesity, heart disease and a whole range of mental illnesses. But if you want to achieve academically, then adequate sleep is essential. Let’s break down why.


Sleep increases concentration

Have you ever found yourself re-reading a page of a textbook over and over because you realise you weren’t paying attention? Fatigue has similar effects to intoxication. You wouldn’t revise after a night on the town, so why would you revise while sleep deprived?

By attempting to revise after a poor night’s sleep, you’re having to work much harder to achieve the same results. Finding an extra hour of sleep per night could save you several hours through the day, allowing you to take in information at a faster rate.


Dreams consolidate memories

Studies conducted by Harvard University suggest that it is during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that the information you gather during the day moves from the short-term to the long-term memory. This means that this part of sleep is essential if you don’t want to forget what you’ve learnt.

In one study, those who had entered REM sleep during a nap performed 40% better on a test than those who took a non-REM nap. This means that you cannot substitute inadequate sleep for short naps. While a short nap will boost alertness and help concentration, the brain will still be functioning sub-optimally. It is thought that REM sleep allows the brain to find creative solutions to problems, so its importance to students should come as no surprise.

Ideally, you will dream about the subject you want to remember. Research has shown that when you dream about something, it cements it into your memory. Dreams occur during REM sleep, which only happens in 90-120 minute cycles. So if you do nap, aim for up to two hours to ensure you achieve this vital sleep stage.


How to improve sleep

Eat plenty of vegetables and cut out alcohol, caffeine and smartphones before bed. Okay, so these tips might not appeal to many students. But by being a bit more careful, you can help yourself achieve a higher quality of sleep.

When you are out drinking, make sure to hydrate properly with plenty of water before turning in. The next morning, don’t lie in too long or you will mess with your body’s natural sleep schedule. Before bed, avoid sugary or filling foods and stick to fruit or yogurt. A nice cup of decaf tea or warm milk will help you to relax.

If you have a smartphone, tablet or laptop in the bed with you, turn the screen brightness down as much as possible and preferably switch them off completely an hour before going to sleep. These are simple things, but getting just one hour of extra sleep a night could make it so much easier to revise, leaving you with more free time during the day.

Your lack of sleep could be a result of living life to the full and really enjoying your university experience. While this is no bad thing, there is too much scientific research to ignore the link between sleep and learning. By dedicating more time to achieving high quality sleep, your revision will become easier, your memories stronger and you should see an increase in your grades.


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