“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” – Irish proverb
In last week’s blog we explored the importance of sleep and the negative affects insomnia can have on both emotional and physical health. A lack of sleep causes not only long-term conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, but also more immediate problems, including difficulties concentrating and decreased productivity.
For students especially, getting 7-9 hours sleep per night is vital in ensuring you give yourself the best chance of thriving on your course. When you sleep badly, your body over-produces the stress hormone cortisol, leaving you tired, irritable and tense, as well as less productive and focused.
Difficulty sleeping can be caused by a range of factors, including a loud or uncomfortable environment, working late into the night, or underlying mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety and depression. Although some of these causes can’t be solved with a regular sleep pattern, they can be improved. And here’s how…
Get into a regular routine – By sticking to a regular sleeping routine, you’ll start to fine-tune your body-clock (or circadian rhythm). Once you’ve established this regular pattern, your body will naturally start to wind-down come bedtime. Part of this routine should include a relaxation period of an hour or so, where you stop studying or taking-part in any stressful activities, and indulge in a calming activity like reading.
Switch-off all ‘blue’ lights – Smartphones, tablets, computers and televisions all transmit short-wavelength – or ‘blue’ – lights, which have been proven to restrain the production of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin. Rather than relaxing you, messaging your friends or watching YouTube late at night can actually wake you up and lead to a low-quality night’s kip.
Exercise during the day – Exercising during the day is one of the best ways to safeguard your sleep. Exercise reduces the stress hormone cortisol, which, as we have mentioned, is one of the major causes of insomnia. But remember not to exercise just before bed, as this can end up having the opposite effect, leaving you wide-eyed well into the early hours.
Avoid caffeine – The stimulant caffeine is well-known for its energy-boosting qualities, blocking sleep-inducing hormone production in the brain. So make sure you don’t drink tea, coffee or energy drinks after lunch.
Seek professional help – If, after following these steps, you still find it difficult to sleep, it might well be worth seeking professional help. Start by talking to your tutor or doctor.