We’re past the middle of term, and your summatives might be starting to build up. But if you’re thinking of pulling an all-nighter, think again – they do more harm than you think…
It turns out just one night of sleep loss impairs our innovative thinking and flexible decision making. That means when we try to work on that essay the next morning, we’re not doing our best work, and may even work slower (not to mention the rubbish we wrote the night before!). Worse still, studies have shown that lack of sleep may lead to mental health issues, substance abuse and even a higher risk of obesity. At the very least, you will probably feel irritable the next day, experience a dip in your immunity and potentially a decrease in your sex drive.
Most adults need an average of eight hours of restful sleep per night. Some studies claim that students need even more, because we’re still developing. According to the NHS, if you feel like you need a nap in the day, you’re not sleeping enough at night – looks like it might apply to the entire student population then!
Furthermore, a study of over 10,000 Brits has showed that on average we’re missing out on a whole night’s sleep every week. Apparently, over 70% of British people are not getting their recommended eight hours, and 53% are getting less than six.
Even if you’re not plugging away at that last minute summative, you might be doing more harm to your sleep than you realise. Many aspects of student life can negatively affect our sleep, from caffeine loading to napping to drinking alcohol. Although alcohol helps you go to sleep faster, the quality of your sleep will be impaired, making you wake up more in the night and struggle to reach deep sleep. Alcohol can also aggravate snoring, making you unpopular with your housemates. And those millions of cups of coffee it takes us to get though the day aren’t helping much either (obviously).
So, what can we do to help ourselves sleep better? Scientists recommend cutting down on screen time before bed, not eating too much before bed and getting into a regular bed time routine and sticking to it… even at the weekend. Apparently, naps can do more harm than good, and instead if we feel tired in the day we could do some exercise instead. Finally, getting at least 20 minutes of sunlight a day can help, and including more physical activity in your daily routine. Maybe we’ll manage that when the sun stops setting when we’re still in lectures!
Following the rise of the fitbit and other smart watches, you can easily track your sleeping patterns and see where you’re going wrong. By recording your movements, your fitbibt can tell if you’re asleep, and tell you how good your quality of sleep is. You can even see your ‘sleep efficiency’, and set ‘sleep goals’ to help you aim for the stars. But be careful – some wearers have reported their fitbits overestimating how long they have slept by an average of 67 minutes.
There are lots of claims out there about what supplements like iron and B vitamins can do to help. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence that they do anything at all unless you’re actually deficient. A group of chemical compounds called flavonols might also help, and luckily these are common in tea, wine and dark chocolate, but they’re still not as effective as a bit of good old fashioned exercise.
It seems like common sense, but so many of us are going to sleep wrong. Sleeping more and better could help us all to become more productive, healthier and happier. So this is your wake-up call, or perhaps your call to go to sleep…