Sleep and sleep disorders
Sleep is an essential function that allows your body and brain to recharge and process information. Sleep also affects your memory and ability to learn new things. At the same time, a lack of sleep is perhaps the single largest contributing factor to mental health issues. Use our tips to improve your sleeping habits.
The sleep formula
There are three factors that influence our sleep:
- The amount of time spent awake since we last slept.
The longer we are awake, the more sleep we require. It is important to keep in mind that daytime naps make it more difficult to sleep at night.
- The internal biological clock.
Our bodies need to maintain the same rhythm for sleeping and wakefulness every day. Being outdoors in daylight in the morning makes us sleepier in the evenings and can contribute to a more balanced circadian rhythm. Exposure to morning sunlight can also help us to wake up and make us more alert during the day.
- How stressed, excited and physiologically active we are.
This factor can make falling asleep difficult, even if we are extremely tired. Make sure you have a clear start and end time for your studies. Creating an evening routine that allows you to unwind is necessary to be able to sleep well. Doing relaxation exercises may help too.
Sleep is essential for our ability to think, concentrate, solve problems and store memories. At times it may be more difficult for us to sleep when we are not feeling well, for example due to stress and anxiety. The fear of not getting enough sleep the night before we need to perform can trigger an ‘alarm reaction’, increasing our heart rate and causing muscular tension, which in turn can make it more difficult to sleep.
If this occurs, try to ‘accept the situation’ rather than letting the fear of not being able to sleep take over. On occasions where we do not get enough sleep, the body regulates itself through periods of deep sleep for the next few nights. Consider whether you have ever experienced a good night’s sleep the next day despite sleeping badly the night before.
Test your sleeping habits
Take a sleep test on alexit.se for a better understanding of your sleep. Once the test is complete, you will receive feedback on your sleep and what you can do to remedy it.
Tips to improve your sleep
We recommend that you start by watching the short film below. Sleep expert Matthew Walker from Berkeley University shares tips for falling asleep quicker.
Prepare your mind for sleep by creating an evening routine which acts as a signal to end the day. Carry out your routine at the same time and place every day.
- Do something relaxing, such as reading a magazine or listening to music. Avoid screen time as a way of relaxing; digital content in combination with the blue light works to stimulate alertness rather than making us tired.
- If your thoughts are keeping you awake, make it part of your evening routine to write down your thoughts and concerns at least two hours before you go to bed. Identify troubling thoughts and try to find a way to turn them into reasonable and calming ones instead.
- As a last resort, get out of bed if you have not fallen asleep within two hours. It is better to break destructive thought patterns by doing something else for a while to avoid associating the bed with poor sleep. Stay up for a short while; around 10–15 minutes is enough. Read something relaxing and then lie down again. Repeat this until you fall asleep. You can also try a relaxation exercise to shift your focus.
This is a good exercise to do in bed before you sleep.
- Relax your jaw and larynx. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Hold your breath, feel the tension and then exhale.
- Open your eyes halfway, then let them close.
- Repeat steps 1 and 2 for a while and continue to breathe at your own pace until you feel completely relaxed.
Also bear in mind that:
- Food activates the body. You should therefore avoid heavy meals close to bedtime.
- Avoid foods that contain caffeine as they make you more alert.
- Avoid alcohol as it increases your heart rate and blood pressure, triggering your stress response, which is designed to keep you alert.
- Exercise is good and can improve sleep quality, but do not exercise too close to bedtime. Your body needs time to unwind after working out.
If you need more help
You can read more about sleep disorders, treatment and steps you can take to improve your sleep quality on the NHS website.
If your study situation is negatively affecting your sleep or if your sleep disorder is affecting your ability to study, turn to us at the Student Health Centre for help.
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The Little Book of Sleep: The Art of Natural Sleep by Dr Nerina Ramlakhan