Some people are lucky, they fall asleep the minute their head hits the pillow. Increasingly though, many people struggle to get a good night’s sleep. Some people are disturbed all night. Others struggle to get off and some wake up and are unable to get back to sleep. This can have a real impact on how you feel during the daytime. Aside from tiredness, it may also cause irritability or difficulty in concentrating. It may even have an impact on your mental health.
Studying to be an accountant and taking regular exams, means you need to be able to perform consistently and give your best. Here are a few of my top tips for a great night’s sleep.
#1 No screen time at least an hour before bedtime
There has been plenty of discussion and debate in wider society about limiting screen time for children. When I was growing up the only screen was a TV in the lounge which had 4 channels and so it wasn’t quite so tempting. Clearly times have now changed. The point often missed in the discussion however is the impact screen time is having on adults and their sleep patterns.
Your body’s internal clock helps regulate when you feel awake and when you fall asleep. This is set largely by exposure to light sources. Therefore, looking at screens prior to going to sleep tricks your body into thinking it is still daytime.
Try and get all screen related admin and viewing done at least an hour before bedtime. This will help your internal clock get into the right mode.
#2 Keep your bedroom for sleep only
Your mind is excellent at making associations between sights, smells, sounds and particular phases of your day or your life. When you smell food your body instantly associates that with eating and starts to produce saliva. Likewise, when you return back home after a period away your body starts feeling the emotions associated with living in that safe space. Sleep is no different, you need to make some associations with going to sleep.
The easiest way of doing this is to keep your bedroom just for going to bed and sleeping. So many of us have televisions in there or maybe have it as the room where we go and work away from other family distractions. Whilst this might feel like a necessity based on your home life it is having a negative effect on your brain as it doesn’t train it to think, ‘I’m heading into the bedroom now, get ready for sleep’.
#3 Being consistent with bedtime and wake up time
I’ve already mentioned about the body’s internal clock and how that helps regulate your daily patterns including sleep. To help set this clock effectively having a consistent bedtime and wake up time allows it to get into a routine. My three young children are a nightmare if they go to bed much later than 7 pm. Likewise, if we let them lie in during the morning we know it will throw out their ability to go to sleep that evening. Why should adults be different?
Modern life can hinder your ability to set a regular pattern of bedtime and wake up time. That doesn’t mean you can’t try and control it as much as possible. Each person has a particular time they like to go to sleep. So, just pick that time and try and stick to it as often as you can. Likewise, it is really tempting at the weekend to stay sleeping in to ‘catch up’ on sleep from the week. However, all that does is it allows your body to know that it’s fine not to get a good night’s sleep in the week as you will catch up at the weekend.
#4 Keeping caffeine later in the day to a minimum
We are a nation who love their tea and coffee. Looking around my students in class it seems we also have quite a taste for caffeinated energy drinks from Coke to Monster. I’m sure you’ve all heard about how caffeine is a stimulant. It helps you feel alert and ready for action. I’ve lost count of how many accountants I’ve known who can’t start the day until they’ve had at least two coffees!
If you are having trouble sleeping then it is definitely worth reviewing your own intake of caffeine during the day. Maybe try out some modifications to see if it helps. A suggestion would be no caffeine from lunchtime onwards. There is an abundance of caffeine-free alternatives to tea available now. This means you can still have that hot drink in the afternoon without the need to have the caffeine. Just try to remember when you hit that lull in the afternoon of feeling tired, try and drink some water. Alternatively, take a quick walk outside to remind your body it is still daytime. It needs to release its own hormones to get you awake rather than reaching for that caffeinated instant hit.
#5 No mobile phone on your bedside table
This is probably the hardest tip for many people to accept. However, it is the most important. I always know when I ask my class about this that they will all answer ‘yes’ to the question ‘who has their mobile next to them in bed?’ The excuses are usually either ‘I use it as my alarm’ or ‘what if someone needs to contact me urgently in the night?’
Let’s deal with these two push backs.
1) buy a cheap alarm clock.
2) if you really do have a situation where you might actually need to be contacted just plug it in on your landing. The far corner of your bedroom is also an option. Just be sure to set it to be on loud.
Ideally, though you should leave your phone downstairs overnight charging in the kitchen.
As I said, having your phone next to your bed is by far the worst thing you can do for your sleep hygiene. Firstly, it means you will almost certainly be having screen time immediately before bed. Secondly, if you wake up in the night you undoubtedly roll over to your phone, touch it to see what the time is and then ‘oh, I have a WhatsApp message, who is that from? Let me just check?’
Phones are designed by very clever people hoping to entice you to interact with them as much as possible. Notification symbols are red so that you see them as a warning or a danger to be dealt with. This has the impact of again more screen time. More importantly, though your brain starts waking up and thinking about a response.
The phone won’t make you wake up in the night but it will keep you awake in the night.
#6 A good night’s sleep starts in the morning
My last piece of advice follows on the previous tip and is linked back once more to your body’s internal clock. When your mobile is next to you in bed it means that first thing in the morning it will be easy for you to lie there, with the curtains still shut, looking at your mobile for the first 15 minutes.
This does not wake you up. What your body needs is exposure to proper light. Ideally, this would be sunlight, to trigger it to notice it is wake up time. If you’ve left your phone downstairs, then that urgent need you have to check in with the world will drive you to get up and go downstairs to your mobile and turn on the lights or open the curtains. This gives you exposure to light and helps your body clock trigger all the hormones you need to get you up in the morning.
Sleep well, study well
The above points are all different ideas for you to try. Hopefully, they have stimulated some thoughts about how you might adjust your habits so that you can get a better night’s sleep. I can’t guarantee following these tips will cure all sleep problems you might be having. However, anything you can do to help your body’s internal clock get into a good routine will help you have a better night’s sleep. Leaving you more alert during the day at work, at home and most importantly when revising for exams!
For more articles that will help support you while you study. visit the wellness section of our FI Hub