Here are a number of suggestions that students have found helpful for improving sleep.
Good sleep preparation
- Find time for vigorous exercise during the day. A tired body and mind usually lead to the most restful sleep. Avoid exercise right before bedtime, however, since it can act as a stimulant.
- Don't take naps during the day; naps delay the establishment of a regular night time sleep pattern.
- Avoid caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime, and perhaps altogether.
- Think of sleep as recreation, and try not to get too upset about missed sleep. Each person's need for sleep is different. The loss of several nights' sleep has been shown not to impair test-taking abilities nearly as much as most people think it would.
- Don't count the hours you sleep; whenever you wake up reasonably refreshed, you have had enough sleep. Also, you may be sleeping more than you think. Sleep laboratory studies have shown that we all tend to underestimate the amount of time we sleep between awakenings.
- Arrange for your bed to be a pleasant place to go to relax at night. Use it for sleeping and relaxing - not for eating, studying, or filling out your Centrelink forms or Tax returns.
- Establish a regular time to go to bed, and get up at about the same time every morning, whether you feel you have slept well or not.
- If you have an 'all-nighter', either studying or partying, allow at least one night's regular sleep for intellectual recovery. (Some people need two nights' sleep for full recovery).
- If you wake frequently during the night to look at the clock, turn the clock to the wall. Worrying about the time will only alert you mentally.
Suggestions for bedtime
- Engage in quiet activities to wind down at the end of your day. Reading, watching TV, listening to music, meditation, prayer, or a pleasant bath or shower can help ease you into a relaxed state for sleep.
- Don't drink yourself to sleep; alcohol may make you drowsy, but the resulting sleep is not restful. And the dehydration that results from too much alcohol may wake you up needing a drink of water. If a glass of wine helps you to relax, there is no harm in that.
- Always take plenty of time to get comfortable in bed and enjoy the feeling of relaxation. It's useful to have a bedtime ritual of some kind. This will simplify your focus and help you to let go of complex thoughts that you may have had during the day...
- think about a relaxing scene (see the Counselling Service for relaxation scripts)
- practise deep muscle relaxation exercises (go methodically through a series of muscle groups in arms or legs or the whole body and tense the muscles and then relax. Relaxed muscles tend to feel heavier, so you can use that as a sign of progress)
- practise the self-relaxation technique of focussing intently on a soothing word or 'mantra', or on breathing in and out slowly.
- listen to a relaxation tape or CD.
- Don't take prescription sleeping pills any more often than necessary, even if your doctor prescribed them to help you sleep. Sleeping medication is only for short-term, occasional use; the drug loses its effectiveness when the body becomes accustomed to it. Over time it can reduce your quota of REM sleep which is believed to be important for intellectual refreshment.
If you still cannot sleep
- Stress is the most common cause of insomnia. If you feel that you are pushing yourself too hard, look into ways you can reduce and cope with the stress in your life.
- If you don't sleep for a long period of time, if you still feel tired after trying these suggestions, or if you feel that emotional problems are making it impossible for you to sleep, you may want to talk with a counsellor, doctor or other helping professional about sorting things out.