Sleeping well during exam season is a challenge no matter how well your grades are going, the added pressure of exam performance and the general busyness of this time of your life can mean that the quality of your sleep deteriorates, but it’s important not to let it deteriorate too much.
It’s a balancing act, on the one hand it only takes a little extra tiredness to reduce cognitive performance fairly significantly, on the other hand it’s important to recognise that you will be tired and busy during exam season and you just have to deal with it as best you can.
Luckily there are several small and simple changes that we can make to our sleeping arrangement that will substantially increase the chances of sleeping well, and we emphasize the simple because making big or expensive changes to your sleep routine when you’re in the middle of exam stress probably isn’t the best idea. All of these tips can be done quickly, simply and for free, they just require a little extra organization and planning.
The following 7 tips are aimed to give you sensible and actionable tips to ensure you sleep as well as you can throughout your exam season.
1. Prioritize sleep, just like you prioritize exam preparation
When you are preparing for your exams and planning your time, make sure sleep in included in that plan. Scientists increasingly understand just how important sleep is for memory and recall, effectively it’s now thought that skipping the sleep massively changes the way we store new information, and how well it’s stored in our long-term memory.
So while you might have to sleep less than you normally do over this period, make sure you plan to sleep for a consistent amount of hours each night that you know won’t leave you feeling tired in the morning, this should also mean that anything you’ve learnt while studying will be better remembered.
2. Avoid the blue light
If you read any advice about how to improve your sleep these days they all say to avoid the ‘blue light’ emitted by screens well before you plan on heading to bed, while this is true is often is practical just to stop studying early. Luckily there are ways to turn the blue light off rather than turning the computer off.
Research in 2008 showed that increasing the amount of blue light in the workplace improved alertness and performance (and actually led to improved night-time sleep) so it stands to reason that we want to avoid blue light at night time, while being presented with blue light during the day time isn’t a problem and can actually improve our sleep at night.
For Mac users, Apple recently launched Night Shift that will reduce the amount of sleep disturbing lights shown on screen, while the highly rated windows alternative is f.lux is ‘software to make your life better’ which is a fairly big claim, but even if it’s just software that makes you sleep a bit better, we’ll take it.
3. Don’t catastrophize one bad night’s sleep
In the age of mindfulness you might already have heard of the phrase catastrophizing, simply put it means don’t make a huge deal about a minor thing, as it makes it worse. This can be true when thinking about sleep quality, while sleep is very important, one of two bad night’s sleep isn’t going to ruin your exam results in isolation.
Ever since humans walked the earth, humans have been thriving despite being tired, if you really want to understand how you can carry on with your life while tired, just ask a new parent. Often after a bad night’s sleep once we get over being annoyed about how we didn’t sleep well, we get on with our day and quickly forget we didn’t sleep well, our bodies are amazing at recovering, even while we’re busy.
4. Eat food that will aid your sleep
While you might fancy junk food during this time, it’s important to try and maintain a healthy diet, and you can even take this a step further by eating more foods that will actually aid your sleep. Certain foods can either have sedative qualities or help the body’s production of important sleep chemicals such as serotonin and melatonin.
While futher investigation may be needed in order to nail down the exact relationship between sleep and food studies have shown that food types that impact the availability of tryptophan as well as foods that synthesize serotonin and melatonin could be helpful in improving sleep. Diet has even been shown to improve the sleep quality of children with ADHD, so it’s fairly safe to say that diet has a profound effect on our sleep quality.
Here’s just a few foods you might want to consider when looking to improve your diet for the sake of sleep quality:
- Bananas: great for grab-and-go, bananas are high in magnesium and potassium that while are importantly generally will also help your muscles relax.
- Whole grain cereals: a great snack for night time as it’s easy to prepare and not too heavy, contains vitamins such as B6 that will enhance the production of the ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin.
5. Drink wisely
We promised simple tips and this is one of the most basic, but it’s still important to take notice of this tip. Too much caffeine causes a huge disturbance to sleep and should be limited several hours before you’re planning on sleeping, remember that it’s not just coffee that is the culprit here, tea as well as other drinks such as fizzy soda can also be high in caffeine.
One particular study conducted in 2010 examined the phenomenon of energy drinks that are typically marketed at young men and are intended to boost physical energy and mental alertness – a drink that may sounds particularly appealing during exam season when late night study sessions are required.
The findings of this study were quite stark; those who drank three of more of the energy drinks per day were much more likely to report sleeping for less than 4 hours a night compared with those who drank fewer. Those who drank three of more energy drinks per day were also more likely to report disrupted sleep, illness and day-time sleepiness.
While drinking three energy drinks per day might seem a lot, it’s not too dissimilar from drinking large amounts of coffee during the day, and during stressful times when coffee is the go-to drink it is something to be wary of.
As well as avoiding caffeinated drinks that will enhance sleep are also worth considering. While milky drink normally steal all of the headlines here, others such as chamomile and passion fruit tea both contain ingredients that are conducive to a good night’s sleep.
6. Keep the bedroom for sleep
While you may be tempted to study from your bed, keeping your bedroom just for sleep builds a great psychological differentiator in your brain between an environment meant for studying and one meant for sleeping.
You might want to even consider taking things a step further and having a complete bedroom tech-ban, checking the odd email can quickly allow you to slide in to a long and unplanned internet surfing and social media-browsing journey when you should be relaxing and preparing to sleep.
7. Avoid trying things you don’t normally do
Our final tip is simply one to emphasize the need to take a sensible approach to your sleep. Don’t try a whole bunch of new things to try and sleep well now that you have never tried, you should make the bear minimum amount of adjustments to your normal sleeping arrangements, anything else and you won’t know if you’re making things better or worse.
If you have never taken sleeping pills before then now is not a good time to start. Simple, small adjustments are always the way to go in order to maintain your sleep quality during this stressful time in your life.