Students and screens: How to combat sleep deprivation at university

Phil Lawloron 11 December 2020
Students and screens: How to combat sleep deprivation at university

If you’re struggling to sleep at uni, there’s probably a reason why. Find out how to improve your sleep with this informative piece.

We're all more than guilty of spending too much time on our phones and tablets, not to mention the frequent Netflix binges. But did you know that spending too much time glued to screens could be harming your sleep quality? Here, Phil Lawlor, Sleep Expert at mattress specialist, Dormeo, discusses the impact too much screen time can have on you.

University has been a somewhat different experience this year, with the pandemic forcing students to transition into online learning. This, coupled with lockdown restrictions not giving us much to do but sit and binge-watch everything from Tiger King to Selling Sunset, you can easily spend almost all your waking hours staring at some sort of screen. 

While it's great having entertainment and resources at your fingertips, it can be very tempting to stay up scrolling, browsing, and watching content into the early hours of the morning. But not only will this make you feel groggy and more irritated than normal at the state of the shared kitchen, it will also make it harder to focus on assignments, lectures, and seminars.

How does screen time disrupt sleep?

There's nothing more annoying than trying to sleep when bright lights are creeping in through the window or under the gap in your door. Our bodies' natural sleep-wake cycle is regulated by light and dark, which is why you typically feel more lethargic in the winter when the days are shorter. Scrolling through your phone at night will have the same effect. This is because screens emit blue light, which blocks your melatonin, the hormone responsible for making you sleepy. 

It's easy to fall into the trap of scrolling through social media, particularly when we’re unable to see friends and family. But doing so can lead to later bedtimes and less sleep, a phenomenon known as sleep displacement. While many students enjoy letting go of the strict bedtime routine for school, going too far in the opposite direction can severely damage your mental and physical wellbeing. 

What effects can a lack of sleep have?

According to the NHS, a solid night's sleep is essential for a long and healthy life. Getting enough sleep is important for your health, as it gives your body the chance to rest and repair. That's why you typically need plenty of sleep when you're feeling under the weather. When you continuously fail to get enough rest, you can become more prone to serious medical conditions such as obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure. 

In terms of your mental health, you'll have probably already noticed how a lack of sleep can make you feel lacklustre and unable to concentrate. Over time, this can develop into more serious mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. In turn, these can impact your relationships, grades, motivation, and concentration. 

How to improve your sleep hygiene while at university

Screens aren't the only problem that can interfere with your sleep. Sleep hygiene is the term used to describe the environment and conditions you sleep in at night, as these can play a big part in the quality and quantity of sleep you get on a night. Students can be notorious for not getting enough rest, with so much going on and so many events to attend. But, prioritising sleep can give you a head start on your learning experience. There are a number of things you can do to improve your sleep hygiene while living away from home:

1. Create a peaceful sleep environment

As a student, the chances are you’ll be doing a lot of studying in your room. But leaving your sleeping space messy with books, papers, and stationery can set you up for a bad night's sleep. This is because a cluttered space can make your mind feel disorganised and busy too, which can keep you up when trying to sleep.

2. Put your devices away early

It's counterproductive to go to bed if you’re just going to play on your phone or laptop. If you're looking to get a good night's sleep, it's a smart idea to put your devices away at least an hour before you go to bed. This gives your body the opportunity to adjust and allow you to feel tired, setting the scene for a better sleep.

3. Make sure your room is the right temperature

Sleeping in a room that's too hot or cold can leave you tossing and turning all night, which isn’t good for your sleep. Your body typically peaks in the evening and then drops when you're trying to sleep, so The Sleep Council recommends a room temperature of between 16–18°C. To regulate this, you may want to invest in a little heater for your room so you can warm it up before bed.

4. Invest in good bedding

It's no secret that student accomodation doesn’t always have the comfiest bedding, which can cause problems for your sleep hygiene. It's worth investing in some decent pillows and a good duvet that will keep you warm and cosy at night. And if you can’t afford a whole new mattress, invest in a mattress topper which will support you as you sleep.

5. Write to-do lists every night

As a student you'll no doubt have a hectic schedule, and staring at your laptop all night worrying certainly won't help. You need to get enough sleep to function effectively. Instead of staying up stressing and losing out on sleep, consider writing a to-do list each night. That way you won't forget any of the important things you need to do. Writing things down can also move stressful thoughts from your mind to the paper. 

Screens can be a blessing and a curse while you're at university. By putting them away before bedtime and improving your overall sleeping conditions, you can stay physically and mentally healthy and make your university experience one to remember.

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Phil Lawloron 11 December 2020