Sleeping 101: Catching Z’s as a Student

I’ve never found sleeping to be a very simple endeavour. I can’t count the times I’ve found myself staring at the ceiling at 3am wondering how and why I haven’t drifted off yet, and then proceed to freak out because I have that “big very important miss-it-and-I’m-screwed” thing tomorrow that I need to be well rested for.

It’s been an intermittent theme throughout my life – mostly in high school and university years – where I’ve either gone to bed at a ridiculous hour and struggled to stay awake the next day, or gone to bed at a reasonably respectable hour and laying there counting sheep into the thousands.

I wouldn’t go as far to say I have insomnia (at least, I’ve never been diagnosed with it), but I think it’s fair to say that at times I’ve struggled with sleeping in my life. And turns out, it’s a pretty common issue among Australians.

In the 2016 Sleep Health Survey conducted by the Sleep Health Foundation, 33-45% of Australian adults reported having inadequate sleep, in either duration or quality. While it’s good to know I’m not the only one who finds themselves tossing and turning sometimes, what’s not good is the many effects that poor sleep can have on your health and wellbeing.  

Sleep and Health

We all hear about why sleep is so good for us, like how it plays important roles in both physical and mental health. Therefore, it makes sense that there’s plenty of reasons why sleeping less is so bad for us.

Poor sleep is linked to overweight and obesity, poorer glucose control, and, interestingly enough, increased hunger and appetite. Sleep deprivation also makes you more prone to causing accidents and injuries by affecting your balance and coordination.  

Your immune system is also affected by poor sleep as it affects the production of infection-fighting substances. And for insomnia, i.e. persistent problems in falling asleep, the physiological consequences can lead to issues relating to your heart and brain long term.

So while those are all great incentives to start sleeping better, as a student it can be difficult to get those pesky z’s in.

Poor Sleep in Students

Given that poor sleeping habits are especially common among young people, it’s no surprise that its prevalence is high among students. Sleep helps consolidate newly learned information, so not getting enough of it can be detrimental to what you can remember and recall. A lack of sleep can affect cognition, attention, and decision-making, as well as decrease creativity and divergent thinking.

It gets worse. Individuals who are more prone to experience difficulty sleeping and insomnia under stressful conditions (read: exams or deadlines), are more likely to develop chronic insomnia. I’m sure we’ve all had some point in our life where we’ve had to “pull an all-nighter” for some reason or another. For some it may be right before an exam in the hopes of cramming in all that information.

For me, it’s often been because I’ve left an assignment until the last minute and frantically need to finish it so my Grade Point Average (GPA) doesn’t plummet. Ironically, studies show that insomnia complaints among students are associated with a decline in performance, based on GPA, and “all-nighters” are actually more detrimental to your learning and performance.

Top Tips from a Fellow Sleeper

So how can you get better at sleeping? The Sleep Foundation recommends having a period of at least 30 minutes before bed where you do something relaxing that doesn’t involve looking at a screen, such as reading a book or listening to some music. I would also personally recommend going to bed and waking up at the same times each day (something I am very guilty of not doing). I know it’s hard with busy university schedules and commitments and all, but it’s really going to help in sorting out your sleeping patterns. Why can’t I just take my own advice?

And lastly, if you think your sleeping (or lack thereof) is significantly affecting your daily life and health, I really recommend going to your doctor and talking with them about your options for treatment. Good luck catching those z’s!

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