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Anybody who knows me might say I’m not the best person to be giving sleep advice. I am known to spend long nights in the reading room powered by caffeine trying to get on with my essays. However, what about on the nights when you’re trying to sleep instead of trying to do work and yet just can’t nod off? During exam period, this can prove a greater problem for students than at any other time due to the stress of deadlines and revision. We need to find the best way to deal with these bursts of insomnia when we experience them so that they don’t affect our performance in things like exams, revision or work in our lives. A massive lifestyle change isn’t necessarily needed to help fix things: is the small changes that can make the big differences.
One of the key pieces of advice people seemed to offer when I was researching sleep problems was this: make a night time routine and stick to it. I understand that when we were younger we actively rebelled against having a bed time but it can actually benefit us having a set time that we call it a day rather than confusing our bodies by falling asleep all over the place. Conditioning your body into a relaxed routine for at least half an hour before you sleep every night by having a warm bath, hot drink or listening to a chapter of an audiobook should help your body naturally wind down. It might also be worth noting when making a routine that drinking caffeine too late in the day will keep you awake. Additionally, eating too late at night can also prevent you from nodding off as your body still is processing the food.
Removing additional stimuli that keep your mind active when you’re in bed is another point you should address. Try not to have your bed as your workspace for a start, the mental association of your place of rest as a place of work can act as a conflicting and confusing factor for your body especially if you’re on your laptop using it as a workspace right up until you try to sleep. Leading on from this, I know that many of us are linked to our phones like they’re an external organ required for bodily function, but they also keep our heads working. This is why it’s best to try and remove yourself from a screen, be it your mobile, television or laptop at least half an hour before attempting sleep. As an even stronger rule, if you have been lying down for some time unable to sleep – DO NOT CHECK YOUR PHONE – it’s just keeping you awake and will prevent sleep further.
Removing things that might stimulate rather than help you sleep extends to ensuring flickering lights in your room are not visible, or trying to block out any annoying sounds. After you have these external factors under control we move to the internal factors and the main reason I’m writing this article at this time of the year: stresses and worries. It can be a challenge getting your brain to keep quiet but there are some ways to try and move it off the heavier subjects. Not everyone is lucky enough to feel like they have people around that they can talk to, but I must urge anyone who has this option to off load their stresses by talking a little to others. Externalising your problems often helps you see how they can be manageable or, if not, a problem shared is a problem halved, so try and share out the burden rather than carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.
If you don’t feel in a position to talk to a friend or course mate about it though don’t forget that there are systems of support everywhere across campus, from the Base, to college advisors, to course tutors. If it’s late in the evening and urgent then Nightline is always available to ring. Let someone help you extinguish your worries so that they don’t blaze through your mind and keep you awake at night.
Lastly, if it is stress, just remember you’re not alone in struggling. There are students lying awake in beds all over town and campus worrying about similar things, and actually in the grand scheme of things the majority of you might actually be doing better than you think. That’s not me saying that you’re being foolish in your worrying, it’s just me saying that you’re not alone.
Try your best to switch off for at least the amount of sleep your body needs to run, be that seven, eight or nine hours. Turn off your phones, talk out your problems, and hush the negative voice inside your head: dream sweet dreams, Lancaster!