The science of study sleep

sleep

Teachers and parents are forever banging on about the importance of a good night’s sleep – and none of us are getting enough of it. But did you know that getting sufficient snooze time can make you more energetic, even-tempered and help your exam performance? Rachael Fulton spoke to Dr Linda Russell, otherwise known as The Sleep Lady, for some top tips on getting seriously good shut-eye to improve your study time

With the exam period looming, catching a good night’s Zs has never been so important. Not only does great sleep improve your mood and concentration, it gives your brain time to digest all the information you’ve crammed in there, whether you’re memorising poetry or present subjunctive tenses.

Energy drinks and late night cramming sessions might seem like the easiest way to maximise your revision time, but depriving yourself of a good night’s sleep can have a devastating effect on your exam performance. So how do you make sure you’re getting enough shut-eye to perform in this year’s exams? Sleep expert Dr Linda Russell – known in the field as The Sleep Lady – offered us some advice to make sure Scotland’s students are rested and ready for this year’s exams.

Say NO To Screen time

“The thing that has the worst impact on your sleep is screen time,” says sleep expert Dr Linda. “These days, going to bed without a laptop, phone or tablet is practically unheard of, but you shouldn’t take any screens to bed at all.” That’s right: no late-night Netflix binges, no tweeting from bed, no TV. If you’re serious about getting a good night’s sleep, Dr Linda recommends staying away from screens for a full hour before closing your eyes.

“If you have no screen time for an hour before bed it only takes your brain 45  minutes to completely shut off and get into sleep mode,” says Linda. “If, however, you have screen time right up until you close your eyes, your chances of deep sleep are severely impaired. You might drift off to sleep, but your brain won’t fully shut off for a further three hours.”

Losing those three hours of deep sleep per night can have a massive impact on your ability to absorb information, your attention span and your mood in waking life. By switching off your screens a little earlier in the evening, you could give your body the rest it needs and increase your focus for the following day.

“Screen time is habitual. After a while you start to feed the habit – the screen time becomes longer and more detrimental to your sleep pattern. When your screen is at your side, your brain remains active and takes longer to shut down.”

Ditch the caffeine

Getting jacked up on coffee and energy drinks is a short-term solution for staying alert and energised while you study, but in the long run, it prevents a relaxing, peaceful night’s sleep. If you’ve been relying on sugary stimulants to get you through the school day, ditch them in favour of some extra rest.

“Keep caffeinated drinks to a minimum, especially if you’re studying for your exams,” says Linda. “Not just coffee, but caffeinated energy drinks can prevent you from having a restful night’s sleep and can also affect your concentration.”

Hit the lights

Before you go to sleep at night, dim the lights in your room. The process of sitting in a darkened room for a while allows the hormone melatonin to kick in, preparing your body for sleep.

“If you quickly switch off the light and plunge the room into darkness before bed, your body gets a shock and has no time to secrete the necessary hormone for a restful sleep,” says Linda. “A nice, quiet dim room will prepare your tired body for sleep and allow you to drift off naturally.”

Break out the bubbles

A long soak in the bath won’t just get you nice and clean before bedtime, it also allows you to unwind and release the stress of a busy revision day.

“When you come out of a warm bath, your body temperature is lowered,” says Linda. “This acts as another signal for your brain that you are preparing for sleep, and after a relaxing bath your brain will be aware that you’re nice and tired.” So get those bath bombs and bubbles out to ease yourself into bedtime.

Get reading

Nope, not your textbooks or revision notes: read an actual book that has nothing to do with impending exams. Something completely unrelated to your studies that will allow you to switch off from study stress entirely. Get lost in a novel or magazine and allow your eyes and brain to get slowly tired, away from the glare of a screen or the mess of your physics notes.

Get a Routine

“All bodies love consistency,” says Linda. “You need to give your body a night time routine that’s consistent so that it knows which time to switch off and doesn’t panic before bedtime. Choosing a sensible bedtime will help reduce stress levels.”

Linda recommends that between Sunday and Friday, you should aim to switch off all screens and bright lights by 10 and be in bed by 11. No excuses.

Milky Drinks

This is the perfect excuse for a bedtime hot chocolate (marshmallows optional). Milky drinks can actually help relax your body into slumber and ensure a better night’s sleep. “Milky drinks also induce melatonin, helping the hormone kick in and prepare your body for sleep. This doesn’t mean have a milky tea or coffee – there shouldn’t be any caffeine involved.”

Wakey Wakey!

Your sleep pattern is also tied in to your morning routine. “When you wake up, don’t reach for your tablet or phone immediately,” says Linda. “Don’t let the last thing you see be a screen. Try to lie in bed quietly, peacefully, wondering how your day will go. Allow 15 to 20 minutes to get out of bed. Start with a warm shower – not too hot so as to shock your body – to wake yourself up.”

Tidy Up

So your parents have already moaned at you about this, but it’s time to clean up your room. Not only will it have a positive impact on your sleep pattern, there’s also evidence it will improve your overall mental health.

“You should try and sleep in an uncluttered environment and aim to clean your bed sheets once a week,” says Linda. “Ideally you’d also avoid having any  TVs or computer screens in the bedroom.”

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