Getting enough sleep is something that many of us neglect in life. When in University it can become difficult to juggle a dynamic social life with a successful academic life. When this is the case, sleep can often take a back seat in one’s priorities, and ends up being substituted for copious amounts coffee and perpetual yawning. Really, this is not the best approach, as generally we tend to forget just how important getting enough sleep actually is to so many parts of our lives. The amount of rest and sleep we get affects our mood, appearance and our ability to effectively study, work and concentrate.
Even when we try though, sometimes sleep can prove difficult to achieve. We all have problems getting to sleep from time to time, but this only really becomes a serious issue when it becomes recurring, persistent and frustrating.

Generally, adults need somewhere between 6 and 9 hours sleep a night, with an average ideal being roughly 8 hours.
Sleep issues can be wide ranging. These may include:

  • Waking up too early (and not being able to get back to sleep)
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Fidgeting and restlessness in sleep

Insomnia, or the inability to sleep, is very common. It affects between 10-20% of the general population at any one time. There are a range of potential causes and these often overlap.

Causes include:

  •  External factors such as light, noise and temperature
  • Somatic factors like pain, breathlessness, needing to go to the toilet
  • Physiological disturbances such as doing shift work or experiencing jetlag
  • Psychological factors such as stress (through exams, relationships, finances), bereavement, anxiety, depression
  • Effects of substances like caffeine, alcohol, recreational drugs or prescribed medications
  • Medical disorders

The majority of sleep problems are easy to tackle and just require the knowledge of how to do it, and the perseverance to stick with the new approach for approximately 4 to 6 weeks.

There are many simple solutions that can contribute to a much more restful, easy sleep . . .

Comfort – how do you expect to sleep properly if you are not comfortable? Keeping your bed made and your sheets clean is a start. Having a pillow that has more fluff than a sheet of paper is even better. What you wear in bed is important - having a comfortable pair of pyjamas that makes you feel snug, for example, is another sure-fire way to ensure total comfort in your bed, which will contribute hugely to your ability to fall into a relaxing sleep.

Eating or drinking too much before bed can make it difficult to fall asleep too. A small snack or a cup of tea will help to relax you and prevent you from feeling pangs of hunger before you try to drift off. An entire pizza and a litre of lucozade will not, however, have the same effect, and might only leave you writhing around on the bed regretting the decision.

Using a bright screen on a phone or laptop, especially in a dark room, does have an effect on how you fall asleep. Instead of watching something on your laptop or texting, try reading a book before sleeping. Reading before bed helps the brain to relax and will tire your eyes a bit more, making drifting off easier. If you must use a laptop, download f.lux, a free programme that alters the colour and light intensity on your screen based on the time of day, meaning that there is less glare impacting on your eyes.

If you find yourself stressing over worries about the past, present and future (as we all tend to do when trying to sleep), try writing the concerns down on a piece of paper. Having written them, and decided to deal with them in the morning, you will either realize that there is no problem there really, or that it is something that you will be in a much better position to work on tomorrow. This, with luck, should improve your ability to sleep.

Circadian Rhythm

Sleep is largely controlled by sleep pressure, and the circadian rhythm, or our body-clock, which is a 24-hour cycle that regulates all our biological and physiological processes. It anticipates environmental changes around us so that our bodies can adapt to them.
In ideal situations, the circadian rhythm will naturally rise in the early morning, promoting wakefulness and alertness, and will reach a peak in the evening. After a waking period of around 15 hours, the pressure to sleep becomes greater and greater, in other words, we get tired. With the onset of darkness, the circadian rhythm drops to the lowest level and helps to maintain sleep.
To ensure you experience good sleep it’s essential to follow good lifestyle habits and to eliminate the factors that are causing you disturbed sleep. For example, making sure that your bedroom is the right environment, looking at the lighting in your home, and avoiding foods and drinks that can hinder sleep.
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If you are suffering from insomnia that is unrelenting, despite all your efforts, it is recommended that you consult your GP or the Student Health Unit about it, before the effects of lack of sleep take too much of a toll on your physical and mental wellbeing.