When exams are approaching, it may be tempting to spend all night revising instead of sleeping – this is not advisable.
Research has shown that sleep deprivation leads to a reduced ability to deal with stress, and new theories suggest that sleep plays an important role in consolidating memory.
Effects of sleep deprivation
- Impaired productivity, creativity, problem solving and ability to make decisions;
- Low mood, and negative impact on relationships;
- Weight gain - eating more sugar and salt to boost energy leads to weight gain;
- An impaired immune system and increased susceptibility to illness.
Sleep deprivation causes a reduction in reaction time and coordination similar to alcohol. This is why it is important to commit to try to get a good amount of sleep before exams, as you want to be at your best. If you are struggling to sleep, see ‘Can’t sleep’ below for some suggestions.
Are you sleep deprived?
We spend up to a third of our lives asleep. Most people need between seven-and-a-half to nine hours of sleep per night (the exact amount is different for everyone). If you sleep in at weekends, or wake up in the week feeling unrefreshed you may be sleep deprived. All of us can function even when we are tired, but over time chronic sleep deprivation can affect our health and our mind.
Lots of people struggle with sleep from time to time. Insomnia is caused by many things and is sometimes a natural response to a difficult situation. When it persists it can affect your health. Causes of insomnia are stress, depression, anxiety, medications, environment (such as excess noise), irregular sleep schedule, and even spending too much time indoors.
- Make sleep a priority.
- Keep a regular schedule. Changing your bedtime affects your body’s rhythm and it takes a few days to catch up with your new schedule – which is why we get ‘jet lag’.
- Try to wake up at the same time each day, this trains your sleep rhythms.
- Try keeping a sleep diary – you may be surprised how much or how little you sleep.
- Try waking up without an alarm clock (but not when you have an important appointment).
- Maximise your exposure to daylight – even in London daylight is brighter than artificial light.
- No computers, iPads or TV in bed. See this article for more information on the ways in which using technology before or in bed can disrupt your sleep.
- A dark, cool, quiet bedroom will maximise your chances of falling asleep.
- A warm bath or relaxing music (or both) can increase sleepiness. It’s hard for the brain to switch off if you work right up to lights-out.
- No caffeine, smoking, big meals or vigorous exercise before bed.
- Alcohol and drugs can mess up sleep patterns.
- Medication may be appropriate for short-term sleep problems that occur in response to major life events.
- Over-the-counter medication can be helpful but check side effects – some can cause drowsiness and you may need to avoid driving, for example.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy, relaxation and meditation techniques, and massage have been found to be useful by some students.
- Don’t use alcohol to aid sleep.
Professional advice is available for sleep problems if you ask your doctor for a referral to a sleep specialist.
Signs of sleep disorders
Do you experience any of the following?
- Pauses in breathing, or stopping breathing for a few seconds with loud snoring;
- Unrefreshing sleep and morning headaches;
- Acting out your dreams during sleep;
- Falling asleep at inappropriate times;
- Difficulty in falling asleep or staying awake.
If you find yourself answering yes to any of these issues, you may want to contact your doctor for advice.