- Javier Peñas / Unsplash
- Sleep is something we are too willing to compromise on.
- Poor sleep can be bad for our physical health and our minds.
- Sometimes the things we try to do to get a better night’s sleep aren’t actually helping us.
- Here are some of the mistakes we are making and how to rectify them.
Poor sleep makes us miserable. Not only that, but research has shown that if we don’t get enough sleep, it can be bad for our mental health, result in poor performance and concentration, and in the long term can increase our risk of diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.
But no matter how many times we are told about the risks of not sleeping enough, it’s still something too many of us compromise on.
New research from Debut – a student careers app – looked at the sleeping habits of 1,331 UK-based 18 to 25-year-old university students. It found that 74% of them admitted to often forfeiting sleep to make time for study, completing assignments, or revising for exams.
The study found that some of the tricks the students used to try and get a better night’s sleep were actually not helping them that much – and while exams and late-night studying stop for most people after university, some of these habits apply to all of us.
Sleep scientist Stephanie Romiszewski, Channel 4’s resident sleep expert and the owner of the Sleepyhead Clinic, looked at what the students were doing, and made some recommendations on how they could improve their sleep patterns.
Here are some of the mistakes you might be making, and how to rectify them.
1. Turning phones and screens to ‘night mode.’
57% of the students said they use the “night shift” mode on their phones to reduce light intake.
Romiszewski said that all light, no matter how dim, reduces the amount of melatonin – the hormone that prepares our body for sleep – we produce. By looking at your phone at night, you are effectively fighting off your “wind-down” process, and keeping yourself awake. The same goes for television and laptop screens.
2. Falling asleep to music.
40% of students said they listen to classical or relaxing music.
Listening to music is fine as long as what you are listening to is relaxing and doesn’t increase your heart rate, according to Romiszewski. But make sure you set a timer to turn the music off, otherwise you won’t enter the phase of deep sleep you need to wake up refreshed.
3. Exercising before bed.
34% of those surveyed said they exercise before bed.
Exercise is a great way to tire ourselves out, but if you work out just before bed, you’ll make it more difficult for your body to relax afterwards, Romiszewski said. It’s best to exercise during the day, or at least a few hours before you plan on going to sleep.
4. Writing things down to clear your head.
29% of the students said they write things down to clear their heads before hitting the hay.
It’s a good idea to write things down, but you should ensure you do it at least an hour before you go to bed so you can deal with any thoughts that pop up. Otherwise, you’ll probably still be thinking about what you wrote when you’re lying down. If you write a to-do list, Romiszewski said you should make sure it’s full of achievable things.
5. Using relaxation and sleep-tracking apps before bed.
23% of students surveyed use mobile relaxation apps like Headspace, or sleep-tracking apps.
These sorts of apps are helpful, but they’re not that great if you only use them at night, according to Romiszewski. To really get the benefits of meditation, you should try using them more frequently during the day. It’s not a short-term fix, so you need to see using these kinds of apps as a long-term lifestyle change.
Also, apps that track your sleep probably are more trouble than they’re worth. They can make you more anxious if you see that you’re not getting the sleep you want.
6. “Getting ready” for bed right before you want to sleep.
Getting ready for bed can be counter-productive.
Romiszewski said putting on pyjamas, changing the sheets, and brushing your teeth can all be unhelpful when you’re trying to wind down. You should get ready for bed at least an hour before you want to sleep, so you make time to relax afterwards.
7. Focusing on number of hours instead of quality of sleep.
Quality is better than quantity, and it’s not all about sleep duration. In fact, Romiszewski said it’s better to wait until you feel tired to go to bed, rather than worrying about what time it is. Short, unbroken sleep is more beneficial to you than more time in bed not sleeping.
8. Napping during the day.
41% of students admitted to falling asleep in lectures.
Napping during the day is a pretty bad idea. It steals away the tiredness you’ll feel later on, so your body will have to build it up again before you can sleep.
To get into a healthy sleep pattern, get up at the same time every day, no matter how tired you are, according to Romiszewski. This will be hard at first if you’ve slept badly, but you’ll be setting yourself up well for the next evening. Before too long, you’ll be in a good sleep cycle, and probably find you’re laying awake staring at the ceiling a lot less.