A sleep expert’s answer to sleeping better at university

Guest Author

An exciting blend of change and unpredictability mark the years at university. In the rush to keep a busy social life yet still stay ahead in the classroom, many students find themselves getting far less than the recommended seven hours of sleep. However, adequate sleep is absolutely necessary for information recall and retention, appetite and metabolism control, and successful personal and future professional relationships. We asked Amy Highland, a sleep expert from Sleep Help, for her expert advice on all things ZZZ. Her top tips for students are well worth a share…

Why sleeping enough at uni matters

Sleep and health are strongly related. Poor sleep can increase the risk of having poor health – and poor health can make it harder to sleep. Common mental health problems like anxiety and depression can often underpin sleep problems, but at the same time sleeping poorly increases the risk of having poor mental health.

Healthy sleep is essential to staying healthy – both mentally and physically.

To stay on track, here are some quick tips to help you sleep despite the hectic schedule of higher education.

Commit to a bedtime

Late nights writing papers and studying for exams are part of university life. So how do you balance sleep with heavy demands? Commit to your bedtime. It doesn’t need to be early for you to get a full night’s rest. It does, however, need to be consistent and early enough for you to get at least a solid seven to nine hours.

A self-imposed bedtime of midnight or one o’clock may not work for the average adult, but it could for university students. If your classes don’t start until 10 in the morning, you’d still be able to get some good sleep. As long as you get in seven to nine hours, you can have that later bedtime.

However, if you’ve got early classes or a morning job, you’re going to have to set an earlier alarm. Plan your weeks in advance so you have time to study each day rather than staying up late to cram the night before. Think of it this way—better sleep equals better marks. The more religiously you stick to your bedtime, the faster your body will adapt, and the more effective your sleep will become.

Build routine into your university life

Your body times the start of your sleep cycle based on predictable routines. Meal timing is one factor that influences the start of your sleep cycle. Try to strengthen your routines by evenly spacing your meals and eating them at roughly the same time each day. The more consistent you can be, the better able your body is to adjust to your preferred schedule.

Create a relaxing bedtime routine to help trigger the release of sleep hormones. Start at the same time each day and perform the activities in the same order. Like your meal timing, the more consistent you are, the better able your body is to respond to the release of sleep hormones.

Switch up your mattress

If you’re living on campus, you may not have a lot of options when it comes to your mattress. However, many universities allow you to bring your own, which can be a real lifesaver when it comes to sleep. A mattress should be suited to your weight and preferred sleep style. If you don’t have the funds for a new one, a mattress topper is a more economical option and can boost the comfort of an unsupportive mattress.

Beat the noise of university halls

A rowdy roommate or neighbour can easily interrupt your sleep. However, if you have a plan in place, noise won’t be an issue. Blackout curtains or heavy drapes can absorb street noise (and block out sleep-disturbing light) while a white noise app or machine can muffle sound. If you’ve got a particularly loud living situation, you may want to invest in a well-fitted pair of earplugs.

Turn off or change modes on your devices

Bright light of any kind, but especially blue spectrum light emitted by electronic devices, can suppress sleep hormones. A late-night in front of your laptop working on a paper can be enough to delay your sleep cycle by an hour or two.

First, check your device for a “night” or “night shift” mode. These modes change the spectrum of the light from blue to red, which doesn’t affect your sleep cycle as much. Set it to automatically synchronise with daylight hours. If your device doesn’t have these settings, dim the screen to reduce your overall light exposure.

Sleep more, achieve more

It’s easy to put sleep aside for homework, but a commitment to better sleep can improve your grades, social life, and help you make better decisions. Studies have shown a good night’s sleep after revising helps your brain to consolidate and remember more of what you learnt.

It might take a few changes to your usual habits, but they’re worth it when you’re energised and ready to go after a full night’s sleep.

About our expert:

Amy Highland is a sleep expert at Sleep Help – an independent sleep-health education site providing web-based resources to help improve sleep hygiene. Sleep Help’s experts make sense of the biggest issues affecting sleep and help equip users with effective tools to establish healthy, sustainable sleep habits. Amy has been with the community since the beginning. Her preferred research topics are health and wellness. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book and her pet cat!