Find yourself dreaming about deadlines at night? Waking up in a cold sweat after a nightmare about exams? Debut’s research has found that you’re not alone, as 84% of students claim to have university-related dreams or nightmares.
With exams just around the corner, we decided to conduct some research into students’ sleeping habits and how these might be affecting your performance. The results? The stress of university and the pressure to succeed, as well as student lifestyle habits, mean that students aren’t getting the sleep they need.
We busted some sleeping myths, and spoke to Channel 4’s resident sleep expert, leading sleep physiologist and owner of the Sleepyhead Clinic, Stephanie Romiszewski, to get some top tips on how you can ensure you catch those all-important zzz’s.
Two years after graduating, I still get the occasional dream about approaching deadlines or exam revision, but it turns out that university stress encroaches on the majority of students’ slumber. 84% of students admitted they have stress or university-related nightmares, and almost half of these said nightmares were recurring
The top five most common nightmares were related to:
- Failing exams / courses / uni
- People and relationships
- Health (teeth and hair falling out / not being able to breathe)
Relatable? Of course it’s difficult to control what you dream about, but dreams are a sign of a disturbed night. Stephanie explains: “Dreaming is normal, however if you can recall details of a dream – whether bad or good – it means your sleep has been disrupted.”
Time for an early night
Students tend to fall into one of two categories. Those who sleep all the time, whether that’s through a lecture or during a midday nap, and those who barely sleep at all, staying at the library into the early hours cramming in some revision.
In actual fact, it seems that the latter defines students the most: 18% of students admitted they only sleep for 3-5 hours a night! To put that in context, the experts recommended getting between 7-9 hours sleep. This means that 1/5 of students are only getting around 50% of the sleep they’re supposed to. We also discovered that a whopping 74% of students often forfeit sleep in order to fit in extra studying – a super unhealthy sleeping habit.
But length of sleep is not the only important factor – Stephanie says “it’s vital to remember that it’s not just about sleep duration. In fact, sleep quality is far more important! We forget this, and strive for lots of hours in bed, which can lead to so much anxiety that we end up sleeping less!”
Sleep myths busted
Whether it’s an evening stroll or an Instagram scroll, we all have set routines to help us get a good night’s sleep, but it turns out some are a lot more effective than others.
We asked you guys what techniques you use to ensure a good night’s sleep, and got sleep expert Stephanie to tell us whether these are effective tactics or not. While some are a good idea, it turns out others might not be doing much good at all:
|What they students said they do||
What the sleep expert advises
|1. Using the ‘night shift’ mode on Smartphone to reduce light intake (57%)||All types of light reduce our melatonin (sleepy) hormones. Even when a smartphone is set to night shift, the stimulation from the tech is still there, during a time when your body is physiologically trying to wind down. By staying on your phone, or laptop, working or doing very stimulating activities, you are actively fighting that ‘wind down’ process.|
|2. Listening to classical / relaxing music (40%)||If the music you choose doesn’t increase your heart rate (think exercise playlists), then this is a great way to wind down.
Be mindful to set a timer to turn the music off once you have fallen asleep, as it will stop you going into the deep stages of sleep that you so desperately need.
|3. Exercise (34%)||
Exercise is great - not just for sleep, but for anxiety too! It might seem strange to rapidly increase your heart rate to reduce anxiety and promote sleep, but some sweat-producing exercise in the day will do wonders for both.
But, try not to exercise just before bed. This will make it more difficult for your body to wind down in the short-term. Try giving yourself a few hours for your body to wind down after exercising, before going to bed.
|4. Writing things down to clear head (29%)||Try to do this an hour or so before bed so you have time for those thoughts to pop up, and deal with them early.
Make a to do list for the next day (a realistic and achievable list so that your body trusts you to follow through with your intentions). It will make you feel happy and content, which helps with sleep!
Similarly, ‘getting ready’ for bed just before going to bed is also unhelpful (i.e. getting bed clothes on, changing the sheets, brushing teeth in a well-lit bathroom). Do it an hour or so before bed, then do your fun relaxing ‘me’ time…then once you feel sufficiently sleepy you are all ready to slip into bed!
|5. Using mobile apps such as Headspace / Sleepcycle (23%)||Apps like Headspace help you relax – but they are never going to be as effective as they could be, if you only use them at night.
Using meditation or mindfulness apps more frequently during the day can lead to good quality sleep.
Using apps as a short-term fix to quickly wind down for sleep isn’t going to help improve your sleep long-term. Try to see these aids as more of a lifestyle change to help you become calmer and relaxed in general, and not just crutches to get you to sleep.
Perhaps avoid apps that track your sleep – they can make you more anxious if you don’t see the results you want.
So if you’re struggling with sleep at university, don’t forget that you’re not alone. The most important thing is to try and find a solution that works for you, so you’re able to get the all the snooze you need to help you reach your full potential.