The 3rd of January marks the Festival of Sleep, an unofficial calendar event that encourages everyone to rest after the busy holiday period.
Given this, and that it is a new year, I thought that it would be a good time to highlight the importance of sleep. More specifically, the role that sleeping plays in being a successful student. As well as giving you all some top tips on how to improve your sleep.
Why is sleeping so important for your studies?
Here are 4 reasons why students should make getting a good night’s sleep a priority:
1. Sleep gives you energy
This is definitely the most obvious reason, but when we don’t get enough sleep, we don’t have enough energy to get through the day. In turn, we might not have enough energy to attend our lectures or study. If this happens frequently, then it’s easy to see how this could impact our academic performance as we would miss out on course content.
2. Mental and Physical Health
Sleeping plays a vital part in our body and brain functioning properly. When we are deprived of our sleep, we are more at risk to both physical and mental illness (Norbury & Evans, 2018; Harvard Summer School, 2022). It is clear to see why this would also impact our studies. When you don’t feel the best in your body, you don’t always perform as well in day-to-day activities.
If you’re struggling with your mental health, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Mental Health and Wellbeing Team. You may also find our World Mental Health Day blog useful to see what help is available to you at the University.
3. Sleep effects your mood
Poor sleep also leaves us more likely to have low mood. This includes being more irritable and easily stressed (Harvard Medical School & WGBH Educational Foundation, 2007; Harvard Summer School, 2022). When studying, you need to be able to manage the stress that comes with your workload. This links back to your mental health as continually missing sleep will have a big impact on your mood and mental wellbeing.
4. Problem solving
According to Cappello (2020), sleeping can improve our ability to solve problems and our critical thinking skills. Both of these skills are useful for our university studies.
5. Consolidation of memory
This is potentially one of the most important ways that sleep supports academic success. When we sleep, new information that we have learned in the day is consolidated and made into a solid memory (Harvard Medical School & WGBH Educational Foundation, 2007). When studying, you will learn a lot of new information on a daily basis. Getting the right amount of sleep, as well as revising, will help you to memorise what you have learnt (Cappello, 2020). This is best summarised below:
“When we sleep, brain oscillations help new vocabulary to become better integrated with our existing knowledge. This means that when we wake up, we have stronger and more useful memories of the new material.”(Gaskell & Henderson, n.d.)
Improving your sleep
Given all the information above, you can see how sleep plays a big role in our studies. If we do not get the right amount of sleep or if it is poor quality, then there are negative consequences that we can be susceptible to. It is clear that we need to make sleeping one of our top priorities.
However, this is often easier said than done. Sometimes it can seem impossible to make good sleep a priority, especially when there are factors beyond our control that impact our sleep (Harvard Summer School, 2021). For example, your mattress may be poor quality, you may live in a noisy area or you may have pre-existing health conditions (Harvard Summer School, 2021). Unfortunately, there are a lot of factors that can stop us from getting the sleep that we need. But, there are still small steps that we can take to ensure we are doing the most that we can to get good quality sleep.
1. Know how much sleep you need
There is a lot of information online regarding how much rest we need. The recommended amount varies depending on your age group. According to Harvard Summer School (2021), people aged between 18-25 need 7-9 hours of sleep a day. With anything under 7 hours a night leaving us “chronically sleep deprived” (Norbury & Evans, 2018:2). While this may give us some guidance on how much sleep to get, it’s not specific to individuals.
While researching this blog, I found some advice that may help you find out how much sleep you need. All you need to do is ask yourself, ‘how long do I sleep for when I don’t have to get up?’ (Harvard Summer School, 2021). For example, on a weekend do you get a couple hours extra in bed than you do during the week?. This is a great way to start the the journey of making sleep one of your priorities.
2. Limit your caffeine intake
If you’re anything like me, you love a good brew throughout the day. I know that I usually have an extra coffee if I am feeling particularly tired and have low energy. But, consuming too much caffeine, especially near bedtime, can be detrimental to your sleep (National Health Service [NHS], 2021). It can be particularly bad if you get yourself into the routine of not being able to sleep, consuming caffeine to give you the energy you need and then not being able to sleep again. One way to combat this is to limit your caffeine intake or swap to decaffeinated beverages near bedtime (NHS, 2021).
3. Be consistent
If you want to improve your sleep hygiene, you need to be consistent (Chandler, 2019). It’s not ideal to try and ‘catch-up’ on the rest that you have missed by sleeping for extended periods of time on a weekend or by napping (Harvard Summer School, 2021). Rather, you need to be consistent in your sleep routine, including when you go to bed and when you wake up. I know this isn’t always possible with the demands of your studies, work, family and student life, but you should at least try to make your sleep routine a priority.
4. Relax before bed
Part of every bedtime routine should be a wind-down period, where you relax before sleeping. Reading a good book or evening using an app for guided meditation are some ways that I like to unwind before sleeping. This time is important so that you can do something you enjoy and help you to forget about the stresses from your day. Don’t forget that you can always check out the Library’s Leisure Collection for your nighttime reading!
Another way to help you see your bed as a relaxing space is to minimise what else you do in your bedroom (Harvard Summer School, 2021). This is particularly important for students that study and rest in one room. If this is the case, you need to be able to separate your space into work zone and a relaxation zone. Although it might seem comfortable to sit and do your studying in your bed, it is best that you use your desk as your work zone. You could also work in the Library if you live near campus or in a local coffee shop whenever possible so that your bedroom is solely a place for relaxation. You can read more about the importance of your study environment in our SkillsGuides.
5. Don’t forfeit your sleep
Sometimes you may feel like the only way you can keep up with the demands of your studies is by pulling an all-nighter (Harvard Summer School, 2021). Maybe you need to cram in some revision for an exam the next day or you have an essay deadline that is fast approaching. But, forfeiting your sleep is the last thing you want to do. As mentioned, sleeping is essential for strengthening your memory and recalling information, as well as being able to concentrate (Cappello, 2020). So, you actually need to get your rest before any form of examination.
Being able to manage your time is an extremely important skill for all students to learn. Hopefully, by planning your schedule, you won’t have to sacrifice your sleep to keep up with your studies. An easy way to start this is by looking at your modules and writing all your assignment deadlines and exam dates in your diary. That way, you know what you need to study for and focus on first. You can also plan the time you will spend on reading, revising, working and doing things you enjoy. In doing this, you should be able to avoid cramming in your revision last minute and staying up all night. To learn more about time management, check out our SkillsGuide for more tips.
Catching your zzz’s
If you have learnt anything from this blog, it’s that sleeping is super important. Not only does it play a huge part in keeping us physically and mentally well, it also helps us succeed as students. So, make your sleep routine a priority this year.
Cappello, K. (2020) The Impact of Sleep on Learning and Memory [Blog post]. Chronobiology and Sleep Institute. 21 December. Available online: https://www.med.upenn.edu/csi/the-impact-of-sleep-on-learning-and-memory.html [Accessed 01/01/2023].
Chandler, D. (2019) Study: Better sleep habits lead to better college grades. MIT News, Internet Edition. 1 October. Available online: https://news.mit.edu/2019/better-sleep-better-grades-1001 [ Accessed 01/01/2023].
Gaskell, G. & Henderson, L. (n.d.) Sleep for a better education. Available online: https://www.york.ac.uk/research/impact/sleep-better-education/ [Accessed 01/01/2023].
Harvard Medical School & WGBH Educational Foundation (2007) Sleep, learning and memory. Available online: https://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory [Accessed 01/01/2023].
Harvard Summer School (2021) Why you should make a good night’s sleep a priority [Blog post]. Harvard Summer School. 28 May. Available online: https://summer.harvard.edu/blog/why-you-should-make-a-good-nights-sleep-a-priority/ [Accessed 01/01/2023].
NHS (2021) Why am I tired all the time? Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/why-am-i-tired-all-the-time/ [Accessed 01/01/2023].
Norbury, R. & Evans, S. (2018) Time to think: Subjective sleep quality, trait anxiety and university start time. PsyArXiv. Available online: https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/9eaqr [Accessed 01/01/2023].