My sleeping pattern has always been very ‘all over the place’ as some would say. However, I promised myself that I would look after myself whilst taking my exams this year.
1. Try and go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning
It is important that you get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. In the past I have struggled to uphold a consistent sleeping pattern; going to bed at 3am and waking up at 2pm the next day. I was always tired, and I felt like I was constantly trying to catch up on sleep. Waking up so late also affected my eating habits which resulted in me eating junk food right before bed (which is really not healthy!)
In first year, I forced myself to wake up early after going to bed at 4am one night and managed to stay awake all day without napping; that night I fell asleep at a reasonable time. I carried this on for two weeks even though it was quite difficult as my exams were coming up. Eventually, my sleeping pattern became much more normal and I noticed a big difference when I took my exams. I’ve never been an ‘exam person’ (especially in school) but being well rested and having a good night’s sleep definitely made me feel much more energetic when I woke up. During my exams, I found I was able to concentrate and focus more, my results have been good and consistent, and I believe this is down to my sleeping pattern.
2. Blue light blocking glasses
During exam period, it is inevitable that you will be using technology a lot more to revise and prepare. Blue light blocking glasses do exactly what they say in their name; they block the harsh blue glare that comes from our computers, mobile phones and TV’s.
When I am preparing for my exams, I find it easier to make notes and mind maps on my tablet; which means that I am staring at a screen for an increased amount of time. This has resulted in me having headaches on a weekly basis. I heard from a friend that blue light glasses are supposed to reduce headaches associated with blue light as well as having other benefits such as decreasing digital eye strain. I managed to get some online for just £10 and since I have been using them, I have noticed the difference.
3. Get outside more
Exposure to sunlight when you wake up alerts the brain that you are ready for the day. Sunlight has been known to regulate a sleeping pattern, as well as holding other health benefits such as serotonin being released around your body which can make you feel calm and happy. Being exposed to a healthy amount of sunlight at the start of the day can also decrease the morning production of cortisol - the stress hormone.
On exam days, I always make sure I spend time outside in the morning taking in the rays. I have suffered with anxiety over the past four years and when you are very anxious your body produces more cortisol which can be unpleasant - especially right before you are about to take an exam. Sunlight can stop this from happening and help you stay calm (maybe you can get a tan too).
4. Reduce caffeine intake/ try natural forms of caffeine
Caffeine is good for you in small doses. However, if you have a habit of drinking coffees later on in the day, the caffeine can stop your body from naturally relaxing when you try and sleep.
Before I started university, I was a barista and it was hard not to drink coffee all the time as I was around it eight hours a day. It was never an issue, but when I moved to Leeds for university, I noticed that I was still consuming a lot of coffee whilst trying to wake up early for lectures and seminars. Eventually I would have a ‘caffeine crash’, I’d feel tired but still struggle to sleep at night. I started researching natural forms of caffeine and was pleasantly surprised with what I found: matcha tea, ginseng tea, green tea and even dark chocolate. Whenever I am revising, I always drink ginseng tea with a teaspoon of honey and it’s amazing! I never get the horrible caffeine crash which comes with drinking coffee and energy drinks.
5. Relaxing your body and mind
If you are thinking or worrying about something before you go to sleep, you won’t be able to fully relax. As I mentioned in my previous blog, meditation apps such as Headspace provide you with relaxation and breathing techniques that can help you sleep better.
I recently came across a podcast on Soundcloud: Mental Health Foundation: Sleep Relaxation. I listened to this podcast every night for two weeks before my exams and found it very useful. The techniques that are used are also used for anxiety management, so for any of you that suffer with anxiety; definitely give this a listen!
Exams are important but looking after yourself and your sleeping routine is equally as important. It is okay to take a minute to breathe. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to stay up late revise, relax and make small changes one step at a time; hopefully you will see the benefits like I did. Below are some more resources I have found useful during the exam period.
Headspace - https://www.headspace.com/meditation/sleep
Mental Health Foundation - https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-sleep-better
Sleep Council - https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/