Every student should know that quality sleep is important. Sleep gives our body enough time to rest, recover and rejuvenate itself. It allows our brain to consolidate the bits and pieces of information which we have acquired throughout the day. It helps us to prepare for the next day.
As a student, you would find yourself not having enough time to have a good night’s sleep every now and then. There are so many things going on, and getting the right amount of sleep is going to be the last thing on your mind. After all, you have already mastered the art of packing activities into the cracks of your hectic schedule.
From classes and co-curricular activities in school, to family gatherings and meals with friends, there are too many things happening during the day. And when you get home after sunset, you are faced with a seemingly interminable pile of homework and assignments that need to be turned in the next day. There’s just not enough time for sleep.
Sleep Deprivation: A Worrying Trend among Students
Students are one of the most sleep-deprived groups of people. Research has shown that more and more students are not getting enough slumber. One of the reasons for this phenomenon is that many students do not value sleep, but prefer to trade their sleeping hours for more work or play. Some students are also not quite aware of the benefits of getting enough sleep.
In Singapore, students can get as little as six hours of sleep a night on a regular basis. That’s definitely not enough sleep to let you recharge yourself for a full day ahead. You may start to observe that other students are also behaving in a similar way, making sleep deprivation seem like the social norm. It has become an ingrained part of the local culture, and that is certainly not a good sign.
If this sounds familiar to you, read on to learn how you can get more sleep by changing your habits immediately. If you want to improve the quality of your sleep, we will be giving you some tips to help you get started.
What happens when you do not have enough sleep?
According to various studies conducted over the years, a lack of sleep leads to poor academic performance and weak cognitive skills. Students who do not get the recommended amount of sleep tend to attain lower examinations scores, compared to their well-rested peers.
A sleep-deprived person generally performs poorly at brain-intensive processes, such as reasoning and problem solving. Learning becomes less effective due to reduced attention, concentration and reaction time. The brain is unable to consolidate information (by moving them from short-term memory to long-term memory).
Not getting enough sleep, even for one or two nights, can result in decreased attention span. You lose focus and become more forgetful. You may inadvertently leave your homework undone, or forget about appointments with your friends. If that is the case, you are definitely in need of more sleep.
Insufficient sleep can also lead to health concerns. Students who stay up late at night tend to snack more and put on weight easily. Students who take part in sports are more likely to injure themselves, as the muscles and tissues in their body are unable to recover fully. There is also a tendency to fall sick when your body is not able to restore its energy supplies for the next day.
What is the recommended amount of sleep?
The recommended amount of sleep depends on many factors. The person’s age is often a good starting point. Other factors such as health condition, as well as the level of physical and mental activities, should be also taken into consideration.
As a general rule of thumb:
- 6 to 13 years old: 9 to 11 hours every night
- 14 to 17 years old: 8 to 10 hours every night
- 18 to 64 years old: 7 to 9 hours every night
This does not include the time you take to fall asleep. It also doesn’t include the ten-minute bursts of sleep you get by hitting the snooze button repeatedly.
Sleep plays an important role in a person’s ability to retain information. In particular, children and teens are picking up new skills at a fast pace, so they will definitely need more sleep than adults. As a person grows older, the amount of sleep required decreases.
Here is an infographic which shows the amount of sleep you should be getting based on your age.
How to Get More Sleep as a Student
We understand that student life can be somewhat hectic and unpredictable, with many activities happening throughout the week. That’s why we have come up with these tips to help you get the right amount of sleep:
- Stick to a consistent sleep schedule
- Spend less time on unproductive activities
- Make sleep a priority for the whole family
1. Stick to a consistent sleep schedule
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day so that it becomes a routine. By training your body clock in this manner, you’ll get a consistent amount of sleep every night. After a week or two, your body would adjust itself to your new sleeping pattern.
On weekends, maintain the same sleep schedule and avoid the temptation to sleep in. It is even better if you continue to sleep and wake up at the same time throughout the school holidays. Getting out of bed early gives you more time to take part in other interesting activities.
Some students try to squeeze out more hours by sleeping less on weekdays, and pay back their ‘sleep debt’ by waking up later on weekends. This may seem like a good idea at first, but students who have inconsistent sleeping patterns tend to get tired easily, especially at the start of the week.
2. Spend less time on unproductive activities
Students often say that they do not have enough time. There are homework and assignments waiting to be done, and upcoming examinations to prepare for. On top of that, the weekends are packed with activities such as piano or dance classes, as well as dinner with the extended family.
Don’t get us wrong – these are all productive activities that are important for your development.
Instead, we are referring to the supposed 5-minute break you reward yourself with after completing a piece of homework. As you start to scroll through the latest social media updates from your friends, you subconsciously extend your break to an hour.
Every day, we lose a lot of precious time by being unproductive. The time spent could have been used for catching up on sleep. Therefore, it is important for us to cut down on unproductive activities. For example, switch off your computer and phone until you have completed all your homework. Instead of playing online games or surfing the internet, take a break by going for a brisk walk outside.
3. Make sleep a priority for the whole family
Students are not the only groups of people who do not get enough time for sleep. Sometimes, working adults may also face the same situation. Parents can influence the amount of sleep their children are getting by setting a good example themselves.
As a family, sit down together and come up with actionable steps to make sleep a priority for the entire family. Have everyone commit themselves to getting ample sleep every night.
Children tend to adapt their sleep habits to the people around them. If they continually observe that their parents are sleeping late, they would start to follow suit. As a result, these children do not get enough rest, based on the recommended amount of sleep for their age group.
If you have younger siblings, learn to have a greater sense of responsibility by being a good role model. Take the initiative to encourage your family members to have an early rest, so that everyone will be fresher and more energetic the next morning.
Getting More Quality Sleep
Sleep is not just about the number of hours we clock in bed. We should also measure sleep in terms of quality. For instance, people who fall asleep quickly tend to have better sleep quality. Waking up several times in the middle of the night may affect the quality of your sleep.
Here are some things you can do to get the most out of your sleep:
- Adopt a consistent bedtime routine
- Avoid screen time before going to bed
- Use blackout curtains or earplugs if you are a light sleeper
- Get a proper mattress and pillow
- Place a glass of drinking water beside your bed
- Maintain a healthy diet
- Get organised and complete your tasks early
1. Adopt a consistent bedtime routine
Tell your body when it is time to go to sleep by following a fixed routine every night. For example, you could take a relaxing shower one hour before bedtime. This is followed by reading a chapter of a book while listening to soothing background music. Once you have established a routine, ensure that you do it consistently so that your body knows that you are about to head to bed. You should also avoid strenuous physical activities such as intensive workouts before bedtime.
2. Avoid screen time before going to bed
Mobile phones and computers emit artificial blue light which stimulates the brain. The bright screens of these electronic devices inhibit the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. This makes it harder for us to fall asleep when we lie in bed. After all, sleep is a gradual process and our body requires some time to power down for the night. If you happen to wake up in the middle of the night, avoid the temptation of checking your phone for updates.
3. Use blackout curtains or earplugs if you are a light sleeper
Your sleep environment directly affects the quality of your sleep. Use blackout curtains or eye shades to keep any unwanted light out, as darkness helps your body to maintain its melatonin levels. If you are sensitive to sound, get a pair of earplugs to help you sleep better. Or you can consider switching on a fan to produce white noise. This helps to drown out other noises that can disturb your slumber.
4. Get a proper mattress and pillow
When you spend around one third of your time in bed, you’ll want to ensure that your mattress and pillow provide the right amount of comfort and support. This makes sure that your body does not become stiff or sore the next morning. Replace your mattress and pillow when they are about to reach the end of their lifespan. If you have been using the same pillow for ten years, you may want to check if it is still firm enough.
5. Place a glass of drinking water beside your bed
Water is needed for the various processes in our body, including repair and growth. These processes occur all the time, including the time when we are asleep. If you do not drink any water throughout the night, you would be considerably dehydrated by morning. Get a quick sip when you are feeling thirsty in the middle of the night. By keeping a glass of water within reach, you can stay in bed and drift back to sleep quickly.
6. Maintain a healthy diet
The food which we eat during the day affects the quality of our sleep at night. To ensure quality sleep, eat more fresh fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamins and minerals. You should also include whole grains, dairy and lean proteins in your diet. Consume bananas, turkeys, almonds and other foods that are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that helps in the production of melatonin. For better sleep, cut down on food containing high levels of sugars and carbohydrates, as well as heavily processed food.
7. Get organised and complete your tasks early
With too many things going on at the same time, we tend to worry about forgetting something. Instead of keeping track of tasks at the back of your mind, write down your to-do list on a piece of paper. Aim to complete your homework and other tasks ahead of schedule, so that you have fewer things on your mind. This leaves you room to accommodate any last-minute deadlines and other surprises that could throw your sleep schedule off course.
There are many things you can do to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep. Adjusting your sleeping pattern takes a lot of time, effort and commitment. It may even involve some trial and error to help you figure out what works for you. As every individual is unique, you may need to calibrate these tips according to how your body behaves.
It can be overwhelming to implement everything at once, so go ahead and pick a few ideas to get started. Keep yourself motivated by setting short-term and long-term goals to improve your sleep. Let your family members know about your plans, so that they can make sure that you stay on track.
If you find these tips useful, please feel free to spread the word and share this article with your family and friends. And don’t forget to come back here and let us know how your sleep-improvement journey went.