The end of the semester and school year can be stressful, as students rush to finish projects, study for exams and write papers. Students get so busy during this time, sleep frequently gets pushed aside in order to stay up for a few extra hours to stay on top of their to-do lists. It should come as no surprise that students are one of the most sleep deprived demographics in our population. But, while it may be helpful for a to-do list, it’s not helpful for your body.
When you’re not sleeping well (or at all), your body struggles to function well. Our memory-recall becomes fuzzy, motor skills slow down and we become moody and cranky. Pulling an all-nighter or even sleeping only four to five hours a night has the same effect as being legally drunk. That’s right – studies have shown this sleep deprivation leads to an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1 percent.
Here are five tips for grabbing some shut eye during finals week:
1. Use a desk, not your bed – While it can be tempting to write the conclusion for your paper or do one more round of studying flashcards from the comfort of your bed, make every effort not to. Your mind should associate your bed with sleep, so avoid doing other activities from your bed. Instead, find a quiet place to sit down and focus so you can go home to your bed and sleep.
2. Make time for sleep – While it’s tempting to stay up late cramming for an exam, be sure to make sleep a priority – a full six hours or more if you can. Sleep is an essential time when your brain files away information you’ve absorbed during the day, such as your time studying, making recall easier. Studies have shown those who studied and got a good night’s rest performed better than those who stayed up later and received less sleep.
3. Continue to exercise – Even when you get busy, you should still stay consistent with being active. Take a study break and clear your head with a jog around campus or a walk through your neighborhood. Staying active allows your mind and body to both feel tired, making it easier to fall asleep.
4. Limit your screen time – In today’s digital age, it’s more convenient for an increasing number of students to take notes on their computers and download digital textbooks. During your study sessions, be sure to take frequent breaks away from your screen to give your eyes a break. When you’re done studying, stop using your computer and instead review paper notes or read a leisure book to help tell your mind it’s time for sleep.
5. Don’t let your diet suffer – When we’re sleep deprived, ours bodies tend to crave foods high in fats. Stay ahead of your cravings by eating balanced meals and snacking on healthy, low-calories foods. You should also plan to avoid consuming extra caffeine, as it can also affect your ability to both remember what you just learned and fall asleep later.
Once finals are over, be sure to take the time to straighten out your sleeping schedule. Begin going to bed and waking up at the same time each day – even on weekends – and stick to your sleeping routine. If you are a still experiencing difficulties falling or staying asleep, schedule a time to sit down with a doctor at Iowa Sleep. Our doctors will listen to your current sleep behaviors and work with you to create healthier sleep hygiene habits for a better night’s rest.