Getting enough quality sleep is crucial for your memory and focus. Discovering strategies to manage your sleep can help improve your performance in academics and in life.

The importance of sleep

Sleep difficulties are among the top health issues impacting UBC students’ academic performance, so it makes sense that getting enough quality sleep is crucial for performing your best.

Lack of sleep has a significant impact on brain function, health, safety, and longevity. Sleep itself can actually improve mental function, and researchers are discovering that it is vital for learning and memory1.

Healthy Sleep, The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Signs you could be sleeping better

Consider making adjustments to your sleep habits if you experience the following:

  • Feeling tired often
  • Falling asleep in class, lab, or meetings
  • An inability to focus in class or while doing other tasks, like writing, studying, or doing schoolwork
  • Consistently pulling “all-nighters” (i.e. studying, writing, or researching all night)
  • Consistently going to bed later than you want
  • An inconsistent sleep schedule that changes often
  • Having to drag yourself out of bed in the morning

What can I do for myself right now?

The benefits of sleeping well

Most adults need about seven-to-nine hours of sleep each night. Getting a good night’s sleep has many benefits, including:

  • An improved ability to focus

  • An improved ability to remember and retain new information

  • An improved immune response, making it easier for your body to fight off illness

  • Completing tasks, like studying, researching, or writing, becomes easier

  • You’ll feel good and are less likely to feel anxious, irritable, sad, or worried

Tips on how to get a good night’s sleep and avoid fatigue

  • Get seven-to-nine hours of sleep each night

Most people need at least seven-to-nine hours of sleep each night to function optimally the next day.

  • Get up at the same time each morning

This includes weekends, whenever possible. This practice will ensure your internal clock keeps you on schedule for sleep and wake times.

  • Avoid naps

It can feel great waking up from a nap, but naps can interfere with your sleep schedule. You’ll sleep better at night if you avoid napping during the day.

  • Stay away from caffeine, tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol before bed

These drugs actually alter your sleep so that it is not normal. Best practice is to avoid these substances at least three hours before going to sleep.

  • Go to sleep when you feel sleepy at night

If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes of hitting the pillow, get up and do something until you feel sleepy. Trying to force sleep can leave you feeling frustrated, making sleep even more difficult.

  • Keep your bedroom a sleep sanctuary

Put your computer, TV, and phone in another room if you can, and keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark. Do your studying, writing, and other work elsewhere if possible, or hide school books and papers when they’re not being used.

  • Stay active

Physical activity can make it easier to fall asleep. Try to fit in a good workout after school or work, but avoid exercising too close to bed time.

  • Unwind before bed

Take time in the evening to unwind before going to bed so you’re relaxed when trying to fall asleep. You might also try meditation to help you relax.

  • Write down your thoughts

Try writing down thoughts or to-do items if they’re keeping you awake. Keep a notepad and pen next to your bed.

…seven-to-nine hours of sleep each night is what most adults need to function normally.

Common sleep myths

“Everyone goes without much sleep”

It’s true that many of us can manage the occasional day on little sleep, but you’re likely to face problems with learning, memory, and mood if poor sleeping habits become routine.

“I don’t need to sleep as much as other people”

A few people seem to be able to get by on very few hours of sleep, but seven-to-nine hours of sleep each night is what most adults need to function normally.

“I just can’t get to sleep”

There may be a number of reasons that you’re having difficulty sleeping, including:

  • a lack of a consistent sleep schedule
  • a reaction to drugs or stimulants such as caffeine
  • anxiety about things that are going on in your life
  • If you’re consistently finding it difficult to get to sleep despite your best efforts, consider visiting a doctor.

Understanding fatigue

Fatigue can mean something different for everyone, but generally it means a temporary loss of strength and energy resulting from hard physical or mental work. Fatigue can also mean being unable to gather up the necessary energy to meet the demands of the day.

How to manage fatigue

If you have been feeling fatigued for a few days:

  • Look at your sleep and exercise patterns. Increasing your sleep time to seven hours or more per night and regulating your sleeping/waking times may make a big difference in improving your energy levels.
  • An exercise plan that gradually increases in intensity can have very positive results.
  • Feeding your body healthy foods throughout the day can help you avoid energy slumps. Aim to eat every 2.5–3 hours, alternating between nutritious meals and healthy snacks.

If your fatigue has lasted two weeks or longer:

  • Speak with a doctor about your fatigue. Your doctor can help identify what’s contributing to your fatigue and help determine an appropriate response.
  • Consider the possibility of depression or another mental health concern.
  • If you think you might be affected by depression, or if you need assistance, you should seek help from a health professional like a wellness advisor or doctor. Getting assistance earlier, as opposed to waiting until your difficulties become worse, will help you feel better sooner and make it easier to achieve your goals.