Previous sleep articles on the blog have been quite popular. For example, Tim’s article on sleep regularity and academic performance has got a lot of reads.
My guess is it is because the stereotypes about students and poor sleep are fairly accurate in that it is common for students to get poor sleep. This might be due to pulling ‘all nighters’ to get assignments done on time, or because of a rich social life taking place between the hours of 8.00pm and 8.00am.
Whilst you are probably very aware of the negative impacts of poor sleep, you might not realise focusing on getting good quality sleep can be a potent cognitive enhancer. We can use changes in our sleep practices to improve learning and memory.
I thought I’d take a quick moment to extract from that article a small set of sleep ‘to-dos’ – to guide you on your path to using sleep to improve your academic performance.
- We perform at our best when we sleep and wake in terms of our natural preferences. For example I am a ‘morning’ person and operate best with early to bed, early to rise. Other people however work best at night. Obviously there are certain limits (such as work hours), but try to organise your life in order to take advantage of your natural rhythm.
- Expect to wake up a few times during the night – this is normal. It is only a problem if a) it is impacting on your functioning or feelings or b) if the period of being awake during the night are quite long (e.g. 30 minutes+).
- To establish a more regular sleep cycle, focus on your wake-up time. Try waking up at the same time each day and get 20-30 minutes of outside light to help reset your body clock.
- In addition to improving learning and memory, good sleep also improves mood. If you struggle with managing your feelings (e.g. anxiety, sadness, anger), consider working on your sleep as a priority.
- Most types of light at night can interfere with your sleep cycle. Blue light from mobile devices is a culprit. Use apps to tone down the blue light these devices from sundown. On Apple devices this is ‘night shift‘ . On Android devices this is coming soon to the OS, or you can get an app like this one.
- Stress impacts sleep. Whilst relaxation or mindfulness strategies before bed can be useful, it is more important to focus on reducing stress across the day in order to improve your sleep. Implement stress management strategies that stretch across the day. Consider some of the ideas in my self-care guide.
- Where possible, avoid caffeine for about 4-6 hours before sleep, but don’t get too worked up about it. Stress has far more of an effect on sleep, than caffeine.
For most people, getting good sleep doesn’t require a complex range of techniques. It is just about a series of simple habit changes.
If you want to learn more about sleep, visit the Sleep Health Foundation.
If you suspect you have a sleep issue (e.g. insomnia), speak to your GP. Another option is to talk to the Flinders Insomnia Clinic. They treat individuals of any age with insomnia and circadian rhythm disorders. To learn more, email them on email@example.com or call them on 8201 7587.