Ask the Counsellor: Sleeping
Counsellor Belinda Muldoon answers your questions.
Q. I’m having trouble sleeping. What should I do?
Studying can be really stressful, and many students cite stress as the number one reason for poor sleep – especially in the exam periods or in the lead up to major assignments.
Here are some quick tips for better sleep habits:
- Get up about the SAME TIME every morning, seven days per week, regardless of how long you have slept.
- Reduce your ONLINE time. Spending long hours in front of the computer is one of the easiest ways to lose track of time and may cause you to stay up later than you had intended. Artificial light created from our mobile devices and computers tricks our brains to activate the neurons that boost wakefulness, whilst at the same time inhibiting sleep-promoting neurons in the brain and the nightly release of the hormone melatonin, which aids sleep.
- Only use your bed as a place for sleep, rest and sex. Lie down to go to sleep ONLY when you are actually SLEEPY. Make a commitment not to use your computer for at least an hour before going to bed.
- If you do not fall asleep about 30 minutes after going to bed, get up, go to another room and do something BORING or mentally challenging (eg. Crosswords or Sudoku).
- DO NOT NAP during the day or early in the evening!
- Reduce your daily caffeine intake after noon – that means NO ENERGY DRINKS! Eat healthy and get lots of exercise.
- Get help for any problems that are causing you to stay up at night worrying.
- Try and do some form of relaxation regularly.
Some students report that they have difficulty settling their busy mind in order to fall asleep.
Sometimes we expect that we should be able to turn our brain off, but the job of the brain is to think; thinking is what it does best and we would be in all sorts of trouble if it stopped working! Instead, we can learn to contain our worries and direct our brain to focus on something more relaxing.
In order to clear your mind, try this simple containment exercise – either read this to yourself or have a friend read it to you so that you can concentrate on the task. You may also like to use this exercise before studying.
- Imagine a container sitting in front of you. It is a container that can hold all of your concerns. The container is open and ready to receive whatever you want to put into it.
- Now, think about (but don’t mull over) all the things that are pressing on your awareness or asking for your attention. Anything – good or bad, big or small- can go into the container. Give each thing a name.
- When everything has been named and put in the container, place the lid on the container and set the container aside.
- If the next thing you want to do is sleep, invite a peaceful thought into your mind.
- If you want to focus on something, invite into your mind thoughts about what your focus is (for example, seeing yourself complete a study task).
Another option is to write a good old-fashioned list! Try writing your list using some prompts like those in the table below.
For more help check out following:
- Counselling Service tip sheet on sleep difficulties
- Australasian Sleep Association
- Help Guide on sleep
- A guide for Android and iOS apps about sleep
Belinda Muldoon is a Counsellor with the university’s Counselling Service.
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