Sleep tips for exam success from a Priory expert
While having a lie in, napping and going to bed late (or sometimes not at all) are all synonymous with student life, it is crucial to regularly get a good night's sleep during exam season.
How can sleep impact my academic success?
Regular quality sleep helps with your learning and memory. Scientific Reports found that students who don't go to bed or wake up at similar times every day are more likely to get lower grades. Irregular sleep can also delay the release of the 'sleep hormone' melatonin - which helps to regulate your sleep cycle - by as much as three hours. This can leave your body feeling as though it's in a different time zone, so when it is actually 8am, you feel as though it is 5am - not good when you've got a morning exam.
We understand that trying to sleep during the exam period can feel difficult. Previous studies by The Sleep Council found that in the month leading up to exams, 83% of teens said their sleep was affected by stress and pre-exams nerves, while 56% admitted to regularly cramming all their revision for an exam into one night.
Steve Clarke, psychotherapist at Priory’s Life Works Hospital in Woking, Surrey, has offered tips on how to get the best night's sleep when you are stressed out with exams.
11 tips for a good night’s sleep
- Listen to music - create a calming 30 minute playlist that makes you feel relaxed and sleepy
- Don't check the time - seeing your alarm clock when you can't sleep can increase your anxiety. Turn it around and don't be tempted to look
- Have a set sleep routine - go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends
- Do some exercise - keep active during the day but don't exercise just before you go to bed
- Always avoid stimulants - don't have nicotine one to two hours before bed. Also give coffee, tea, chocolate and fizzy drinks a miss as caffeine should be avoided before you sleep
- Don't take naps - while it may seem like a good idea at the time, avoid your mid-afternoon nap so you are tired by the time you go to bed
- Don't have a TV in the bedroom - don't watch TV in bed, or stream on your laptop or tablet, as this stimulates the brain. Charge your phone and devices outside your room, and don't use the alarm on your phone as an excuse to keep it by your bed
- Don't use your smartphone in bed - LCD screens emit a blue-enriched light that can delay the release of melatonin, meaning that you don't feel sleepy when you should do
- Keep the bed a sanctuary for sleep - make sure that the bed itself is reserved for rest and not revision, and that the overall space isn't crowded by textbooks, laptops and papers
- Make time to relax and unwind - soaking in a hot bath or doing 10 minutes of meditation and breathing exercises can do a lot of good
- Stress management - Exams are stressful but try not to 'catastrophise'. If something is causing you to worry, keep a notebook by the side of your bed and jot down whatever is making you to feel anxious. Then pop it into a bedside drawer and leave it until the morning.
View sleep as an important part of your exam preparation, not as something that you can skip. If you do feel that you need to do some last-minute cramming, set your alarm a little earlier than usual and have a quick refresh first thing rather than sacrificing your sleep.
World class sleep therapy and treatment for sleep disorders
If you or someone you care about is suffering from a sleep disorder, it is important to seek help.
Priory has a team of expert consultant psychiatrists who specialise in sleep therapy and the treatment of sleep disorders. They work to produce bespoke therapy programmes that take individual experiences into consideration so that people receive the most effective treatment. This can include sleep hygiene measures and regular relaxation exercises. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may also be used to tackle symptoms and any underlying problems that exist.