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How to get your sleep - the latest research

You can’t fall asleep before an important exam? These ten steps will help you out

Sleep is one of the most satisfying occupations in our lives: it’s relaxing, you don’t have to move, comfortable, no requirements at all – and yet, at times, we find it challenging to actually go to bed.

And if we indeed get as far as the bed, we lie about, tossing and turning – wondering what tomorrow will offer, lurking exams or what’s happening on Facebook.

This can go on for hours on end, the result being that we are stressed about not sleeping. The next day you feel like a diseased cat. Still, we expect to just brush our teeth, go bed, shut our eyes and magically fall asleep.

Does this sound familiar?

If yes, then stop your sufferings. Here is a short guide with ten tips, with some of the most common sleeping problems and solutions. If you are tormented by an overactive brain, and an uncooperative body, then read on!

1. Just Go To Bed

Problem: Putting off bedtime. It’s not that fun, and you’ve got so much you want to do, or so much you haven’t done.

Solution: Go to bed. This is, not surprisingly, the first step. Put on some comfy clothes, or get naked – whatever floats your boat, and GO TO BED. We all know the feeling of wondering around late at night, trying to get everything done, or watching just one more episode of CSI, but postponing your bedtime, only makes matters worse.

Try and have a specific time you go to bed, which will get you into a healthy sleep rhythm. This will help change your biological clock, otherwise you’ll suffer from jet lag the rest of your life. Try and find a reasonable time to go to bed (perhaps between 10-11 pm) and get up again at the same time everyday – even in the weekends! For more specific information, take a look at this: (

2. Avoid sense-stimulating activities

Problem: If you suffer from TV-series addiction, the internet or late night chores – you’re not the only one. But this can be interfering with your sleeping habits.

Solution: Around one hour before you go to bed, try and resist watching television, or surfing on the internet. The light from the screen affects your brain, stimulating you with images and information. Your brain needs to relax and slowly prepare for a good night’s sleep – and lots of weird dreams. Also, do not check your smartphone once you’ve achieved getting into bed – No, not even for a few minutes. Again the light effects your brain’s nerve-system, and it starts to think its daytime. Studies show how much this really can disrupt your sleep. Have a look at this: ( – if you don’t believe it.

In other words: give your brain a break! Instead, take a nice warm bath and listen to some soft music – Your body will be pleased.

3. Keep a notebook by your bed

Problem: Masses and masses of worries and things that have to get done.

Solution: If you, like the rest of the universe, lie in bed feeling tense and overwhelmed by thoughts – keep a pen and paper next to you. This way, you can quickly write all your worries and to-do’s down, and free your mind till the morning. We tend to remember everything that needs to get done at the late hours of night – but can you actually get anything done at two in the morning? No. So write it down – in quick and small notes, not an essay.

This is just about jotting down your to-dos. For a more detailed and advanced sleep diary solution, look here.

4. Eat well, sleep well

Problem: Late night snacks and binges

Solution: First of all, do not eat right before you go to bed – unless you’re starving, which will of course, keep you awake. Your poor stomach needs time to digest the food. This process is keeping your body busy, which keeps you alert and awake.

Food interferes with your energy and sleep patterns. If you are tempted to have an evening snack, try and dodge heavy meals, caffeine and sugar. If you have an upset and growling stomach, or an unclenching thirst, here are some foods/beverages, you should not indulge in before bedtime:

Chocolate. Chocolate is very yummy, and maybe an ideal snack. But it contains caffeine and triggers endorphins in your brain (the happy brain chemical), so sleep becomes less desiring.

Alcohol. A nightcap is very inviting – and we all know how a nice glass of redwine helps us to fall asleep – but resist the temptation! It will come back and slap you in the face. As it might help you fall asleep, alcohol is dehydrating, and makes you more prone to visit the toilet. Either way, it will wake you up, preventing you from achieving deep sleep.

Sweets. Again, a very yummy invention. Besides being a drag for your teeth hygiene, sweeties contain lots and lots of sugar. Sugar makes you buzz about and alert, which you don’t need if you want to sleep.

Chili and spices. It might sound a bit strange, but chili and spicy food can interrupt your sleep. They contain acids, which can cause throat burn and a runny tummy.

If you are very hungry, then of course you should satisfy your tummy. You can get some ideas for bedtime snacks here:

5. Darken things, shut up the noise

Problem: If you suffer from severe insomnia and stress, then light and noise can disturb you more than you think.

Solution: Attempt to find all sources of light in your bedroom and cover them up. You might have to go to the extreme and use blackout curtains, and use cloth to cover standby lights from your computer and TV. You become aware of light; making them fixed points to stare at in the night, or the blinking standby light coming from your Macbook Pro, irritates you.

Now, try and find the sources of noise in your bedroom. Is there a computer humming? Or a clock ticking? If you can’t turn off the source of noise, then try earplugs. If you don’t like falling asleep with earplugs, always have them near your bed – in case you’re woken up by your neighbours’ booming bass. It can be hard to fall back to sleep, once we’ve been awoken, and earplugs may help in such situations. The US institution, the National Sleep Foundation has some great ideas for creating a more friendly sleeping environment.

6. Your bed is for sleeping in

Problem: Homework, eating pizza’s, watching Beverly hills – lots of fun activities, in your bed.

Solution: Keep your bed as a bed, and not as a sofa. It should only be used for sleep and sex. Not bad eh?

If you bring your work to bed with you, you can also bring stress and the to-do’s. It will also be harder for you to actually stop working or watching TV, as you are already in bed and may as well continue. Again, give yourself a break.

For more handy information, look here: This cool site has a sleeping environment quiz, and a guide on how to make your bedroom a sleeping sanctuary!

7. Exercise that body!

Problem: If you have trouble falling asleep, then maybe you’re not exercising enough, or not in the proper way. Do you ever not exercise because you feel to tired? Perhaps, this could have a connection with how well you’re sleeping and your sleep habits – chances are that it does.

Solution: It is said that exercise and exercising in the right way, greatly benefits our sleep. Why, it benefits other major areas of our lives: health, heart pressure, relief of stress and even improves moods.

Hmm… but why should we run about in this tedious way, how could this possibly help us to fall asleep? Well, apart from the obvious, tiring us out, regular exercise increases our body temperature for a few hours – for then to decrease to lower temperature than if you hadn’t exercised, which makes the body and mind relax. While we sleep, our body temperature falls, and is at its lowest point around dawn.

To maximize the benefits of sleep and exercise, try and take a run five or six hours before bedtime. This means that when your body temperature starts to decrease, then its time for bed – and you’re more relaxed. Remember, try not to exercise too near bedtime, as your body will not have time to cool down before sleep. Several studies show the different benefits of exercising and sleep – get an interesting report of these here.

8. Meditation is quite useful

Problem: Thoughts, worries and practicalities can build up in our minds, causing us to be in a right mess. Sometimes more than others. Maybe its examination time, you’re frantically in love with Mr. or Ms. Hot-stuff you can’t have, your mum is nagging or you’ve spent all your money by the middle of the month. Whatever the reason, these tensions always seem to expand when we try to fall asleep.

Solution: Meditation can help clear your mind! Is this news? No. But have you ever tried it?
Meditation does not only belong to Buddhist monks in Tibet, or people in midlife crises – it can actually help everyone. Even kids.

Meditation is a practice, to clear your mind from all thoughts and emotions, and to sense your body and surroundings as they are. You usually have to place yourself in a comfortable position, such as lying down, and feel your body from toes to head. Also, breathing exercises help create awareness of your body. Meditation music is available, to get you in the meditation mood, and can be found on Youtube. Here for example, are some soothing dolphin sounds: .

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Combine it with this beginners meditation guide, and you’re set!

9. Exams, late night reading and not sleeping

Problem: Exams are always stressful; oral or written. They are tedious and nerve-racking, but most of all – time consuming. In stressful exam times, we can find ourselves sitting up late into the night, trying to fight back an urge to sleep. When you finally go to bed, you end up waking up in the middle of the night, and can’t fall back to sleep.

Solution: Try and get off the sofa, remove yourself from the computer and go for a walk. You could even do the dishes, call a mate or wash some clothes. Doing this is slightly stimulating, and gives you a change of scenario. It also clears you head, and helps you to concentrate when you return to your work, and maybe avoiding bringing the work to bed with you. Also, try to stop working an hour before you go to sleep, to relax and clear your mind – even though it can be tempting to keep working: remember how important the Zzzz’s are!

In this intriguing guide, you can get further tips on exam reading and how to treat your body and mind with respect.

10. Limit afternoon napping

Problem: Especially for students, everyday life varies enormously. Some days there are lectures, other days we have a job, then we have our parties, and then we have quality time with friends. Coming home late at night after being out at with your mates (much later than expected: “just one more beer then”), to having to get up at 07:00 in the morning, to go to a lecture or work. What do we do afterwards in the afternoon? Nap!

Solution: Napping is OK, but try and limit it to a ten minute power nap, and before 2 or 3 pm. People experience that severe napping routines keep them up at night – and then the circle continues.
In this small article, you can get an insight to the pro’s and con’s of napping.


All of these tips are just a (hopefully) helpful way of seeing your sleeping habits, and they of course vary from night to night, and person to person.

Share your own tips below in the comment field. Good luck and sleep tight!

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