A sleep scientist’s top tips for getting in some sensational snooze
It’s no secret that students love to screw around with their circadian rhythms. One night we’re out like a light at 9:00 pm, the next we’re listening to the morning birds chirp at 4:30 am. For a lot of us, having a botched sleep schedule, and fighting the uphill battle of keeping your eyes open in a lecture hall, feels like it’s part and parcel of the uni experience. We’re all well aware that our sleep habits aren’t optimal, but it often feels pointless to try to change them.
But, Theresa Schnorbach, psychologist and Sleep Scientist at Emma the Sleep Company, is here to prove us wrong. Theresa is not only passionate about the importance of sleep, but she champions that our sleep habits can be adjusted with a few easy steps.
How does our sleep impact our wellbeing?
Just like eating, drinking, and breathing, it goes without saying that sleep is vital for our physical and mental wellbeing and is the backbone of psychological resilience.
When we sleep, our brains are hard at work processing the day’s information, activating and boosting our immune systems and regulating hormones to ensure our bodies are rested, recovered and ready for the next day. Sleep also helps to process emotions effectively, which is important during stressful periods but also for our everyday moods.
Sleep is a huge part of academic success and has been key to improving exam performance of uni students for allowing the brain to solve problems and consolidate memory (so pulling an all-nighter is not worth the aftermath!).
Many students are night owls, and/or have irregular sleep schedules. Do the times we go to sleep and wake up matter? What does the optimum sleep schedule look like?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the best optimum sleep schedule, as it depends on the individual what time works for you. But The National Sleep Foundation (US) has recommended for young adults between seven to nine hours a day.
The main trick to an optimum sleep schedule is having one—going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Aligning your schedule with the sun’s schedule is going to help your circadian rhythm stay balanced. It often becomes tricky for students when they go to bed late and would therefore naturally sleep longer in the morning but have to get up early in the morning to attend university classes. Here it is important not to neglect sleep and instead go to bed early enough to allow enough time to sleep.
In the evenings, it’s best to wait two to three hours after consuming food and alcohol before hitting the hay so your body digests properly. Spend this time relaxing and winding down (and avoiding screens if you can!).
What are your top tips for students looking to optimise their sleep quality?
- Sticking to a consistent bedtime—if we go to bed earlier some days and later others, we’re putting our sleep-wake cycle out of whack, which messes with our body’s ability to be in its best physical and mental health. Try to keep your bedtime and wake time as regular as possible and the occasional night out is totally fine.
- Try and exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.
- Invest in quality bedding that supports your body—a comfortable and firm high-quality mattress or mattress topper like the ones from Emma Sleep will align your posture and spine.
- Within two to three hours before bedtime—avoid news that’s too exciting and social media, alcohol, nicotine, heavy meals, and cut back on your caffeine intake from early afternoon onwards (which isn’t just found in coffee).
- Try not to lie in bed awake—if you can’t fall asleep, get up and try to wind down by reading a book or listening to music until you feel sleepy again.
What advice would you give students who want to reset their sleep schedules?
If you want to reset your sleep schedule, find a fixed bedtime (going to bed and getting up) that you can stick to seven days a week. Maximise natural sunlight as soon as possible after getting up, avoid naps if you can’t fall asleep or have difficulty sleeping through the night (even if you feel tired the next day), minimise too bright light and excitement in the evening. Also, very important for good sleep, I’d recommend ensuring you have quality bedding that gives your body optimal support.
Like Theresa, I also think it’s very possible and important to follow healthy sleep habits to optimise how much one can live love laugh. From purely personal experience, here are some essentials that could add to your routine for better zzzs.
Craccum’s Sleep Essentials
These are so handy for when your noggin just won’t shut up. At the top of my list is I Can’t Sleep Podcast, where the narrator reads Wikipedia pages on incredibly mundane topics like oatmeal and carpet, in his beautifully monotone and drawling voice. I’ve listened to this podcast so religiously that my body instantly starts to clock out of the world when I hear Benjamin’s soothing drone. For those that aren’t keen on learning about the different preparations of oat grains at 3 am, other notable podcasts that will have you dozing off in no time include white noise and rain sounds, which you can find loop endlessly on Spotify.
Fuzzy socks in bed are an absolute staple. For the weirdos who don’t wear them, how do your toes not freeze off, and more importantly, why would you not want to have your nasty ass toes covered at all times?
Popping a few of nature’s sedatives before bed is a sure-fire way to get some quality shut-eye, with the bonus benefit of strengthening your bones, if you’re into that. Not sure what the science is behind the magic of magnesium (my scientific knowledge ends at the mitochondria being the powerhouse of the cell), but this stuff just works.
Look, there’s a reason why eight-year-olds go feral for these plushies. And I am said eight-year-old.
I respect the hustle of girlies who jump into bed with their matching silk Peter Alexander pyjamas, but an old hoodie over top of your old shirt and sweatpants will always be superior. It keeps you extra toasty, and doubles as a handkerchief for wiping up your late-night mental breakdown cries.
Sick of your old and lumpy bed? Plagued with mysterious back pain? Say no more with a new mattress topper! This luxurious and plush layer will give your mattress the Princess Diaries transformation it desperately needs.
If you’re looking to invest, the Emma Mattress Topper is a great high quality option that will provide you many many nights of sweet slumber. With this topper, I’ve definitely felt like a cosy little Carebear, lying on a bed of clouds, with no sleep demons in sight. To find out more, head to: https://www.emma-sleep.co.nz/.
Note: Emma the Sleep Company very generously sent a mattress topper for me to review. All opinions are my own.