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10 sleep tips for the exam period

20 March 2019

When it comes to revising for exams there is no better revision aid than a good night’s sleep! Dr Guy from the Sleep School explains some of the best ways you can get some rest and achieve your best.

cat sleeping under duvet

Sleep plays a key role in helping you to filter and store everything you've learnt during the day. It also helps to recharge your batteries, increasing your focus when learning and reducing the chance of mistakes.

With exams upon the horizon, here are some ways you can ensure you get the best rest possible...

1. Avoid cramming

Staying up late cramming may seem like a good idea, but it's counterproductive. Research demonstrates that individuals do less well in learnt tasks when they’ve been sleep-deprived because it limits the access to Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. REM is the sleep stage essential for storing memories. If you’re serious about performing at your best, then make sleep a priority. 

2. Avoid blue light

Whether you’re working late on your computer or playing on your phone/tablet, the blue light emitted from most modern devices will disturb your sleep by activating the release of the waking hormone cortisol. Make a habit of switching off all your devices at least 30 mins before bed. If you really need to use them, then turn on the blue light filter on your phone (many now have these built in) or download an app version online, such as F-Lux or Night Shift.

3. Wind down

If you've been revising all day it can be difficult for your brain to know when it’s time to switch off, leaving you lying in bed and wide awake! Choosing to wind down helps to draw a line between the active day-time phase and the quiet night-time phase. Listening to relaxing music, reading a favourite book and having a bath can all help to shift your brain down a gear and prepare it for sleep.

4. Welcome your worries

Worrying is inevitable when faced with exams, but it's how you respond to that determines how much they affect you.  Get into the habit of giving your worries nicknames such as 'course work', 'revision' or 'failure' and then when they show up, welcome them by saying "I see the ‘failure’ thoughts have arrived again - thanks mind!" Doing so helps to create a sense of perspective on your thoughts, allowing you to notice them arrive, but then let them go and return to what you were doing.

5. Rest is best 

If you wake in the night, you could be tempted to get up and start revising! Not only does this tire you out for the day ahead, but it can also programme your brain to wake up at the same time the next night. Choosing to stay in bed is a more helpful option because it saves your valuable energy for the day ahead and trains your brain to fall back to sleep.

6. Wake yourself with light

If early starts are a struggle for you, then the best remedy is natural light. Opening the curtains and exposing yourself to sunlight informs your internal body clock that the day has started, inhibiting the release of melatonin, the sleep-promoting hormone.

7. Exercise

Taking time out to be active whilst revising can be very helpful! Exercising for just 30 minutes has been proven to reduce the time taken to fall to sleep and increase the depth of sleep. The endorphin release can also be a fantastic stress buster, helping to lift your mood and lessen worries.

8. Use caffeine (wisely)

Caffeine is a stimulant designed to keep you awake. It works by blocking the brain chemical adenosine, responsible for making us sleepy. Having 1 or 2 caffeinated drinks such as coffee or tea, in the morning can be a helpful way of waking you up.. Be careful though, as caffeine stays in the body for up to 12 hours and can reduce sleep quality. Aim to drink herbal alternatives from midday onwards.

9. Power nap

If you’re feeling tired and lacking focus after lunch, don’t be afraid to have a short power nap. A 10-minute nap can boost alertness, energy levels, creativity and even your ability to solve tricky problems. For best results keep it short (no more than 30 minutes).

10. Take a break

When you’re in revision mode, it’s easy to sit for hours without doing anything else. Whilst this might seem like a good idea, it can result in you being unable to switch off at the end of the day. Scheduling regular short breaks every hour to do something completely different such as listening to music, eating a healthy snack or going for a walk, helps to create much needed head space and will help to boost productivity.


By Dr Guy Meadows, Sleep School

Updated by Student Support and Wellbeing, March 2019