Student Counselling

Addressing difficulties with sleep

It is very normal for our sleep to be disrupted when we go through periods of change or stress in our lives. Sometimes this disrupted sleep continues to be problematic.

The following sleep hygiene guidelines help your body and mind get ready for sleep.

  • avoid stimulants such as caffeine (found in tea, coffee, soft drinks, chocolate etc), nicotine, and alcohol, for at least 4 hours before you go to bed.  Get to know your own body - coffee after 2pm can  impact your sleep
  • avoid screens at bedtime.  The light interrupts the release of melatonin and what we watch/read can make us feel more alert/anxious
  • our body clocks are regulated through external cues, so our bodies really like routine, have anight time routine that includes some relaxing activities the hour before you go to bed, have a regular getting up time and mealtimes
  • fresh air and exercise help sleep, however exercising in the evening wakes us up.  Exercising late afternoon allows your body time to wind down
  • don't nap, even if you are tired, save it for night time
  • your bedroom environment is important
    • don't use the bedroom for anything other than sleep or sexual activity.  If you live in one room, try to create an area for study that is separate from your bed
    • low lighting triggers the release of melatonin, increasing sleepiness
    • don'thave the room temperature too warm
    • try earplugs if you find it noisy at night
  • to help your body and mind relax you could try
    • Mindfulness - notice what you feel in your body as you breathe in and breathe out.  You could say 'out' in your mind with each out breath
    • slowing your breathing down - try making your out-breath longer than your in-breath and lengthening the pause between each breath
    • attending to each part of your body and consciously allowing it to relax.
If thinking gets in the way of sleep
  • Take some time earlier in the evening to 'put the day to bed'
    • write down what's on your mind, what has happened that day and how you feel about it
    • make a 'to-do' list of anything you need to get done and schedule a time to do it
    • when you go to bed and thoughts about these things come into your head, tell yourself that you've already dealt with them and don't need to think about them that night
    • if new thoughts come into your mind, note them down on paper beside your bed and know tht you can deal with them the next day.  You don't have to think about them anymore that night
  • If thoughts persist
    • worrying about sleep is counterproductive, as anxiety wakes our bodies up, notice if you're catastrophising and thinking of the worst case scenario.  Research shows you're likely to be getting more sleep than you realise
    • mindfully acknowledge the thought and let them be, moving your attention to your breath
    • try voicing the thoughts that are in your head.  Speaking out loud overrides thinking.  If you're worrying about an assignment, you could say out loud "I'm going to get it done, i don't need to think about it now"
    • some people find repeating "the" aloud, over and over, helps stall their thoughts
  • Sometimes trying to sleep gets in the way of sleeping.  Take away the effort and the concern over being awake.  Don't purposefully keep yourself awake,  but just think gently to yourself "I'll stay awake for a couple more minutes and when I'm ready I'll fall asleep natrually."
The 15 minute rule

This helps with associating your bed with sleep and has been found to be one of the most effective strategies to address long-term sleep difficulties.

If, after 15 minutes, you find that you are not asleep, don't stay in bed.

  • get up and go into another room, keep the lights low and keep warm
  • do something a bit boring, perhaps reading a magazine.  It can help to have a warm drink (not caffeinated) to help you relax
  • once you feel sleepy, go to bed
  • if you're still awake after another 15 minutes, get up again and repeat.  This helps with associating your bed with sleep and has been found to be one of the nost effective strategies to address long-term sleep difficulties.