Photograph of a cat stretched out on its back on a desk of papers, asleep. It has a blissful expression.

The Importance of Sleep

Sleep well to learn well.

Healthy sleep is critical to learning.

Here’s a common misconception: “Sleep is a time when the mind and body shut down”, but the truth is that sleep is an active period in which a lot of important processing, restoration and strengthening occurs.

One of the vital roles of sleep is to help us retain what we’ve learnt. As we go about our day, our brains take in an incredible amount of information. Overnight, all of that information gets transferred from the short-term memory to the long-term memory; a process called “consolidation.”

Many students don’t get enough sleep because they sacrifice rest time to their studies. Yet, research has shown that after people sleep, they tend to perform better at memory tasks. For a recent review of the research see: Sleep Smart

The effects of sleep deprivation.

Cartoon of a girl in bed. A fairy hovers above her saying "Hi! I'm the sleep deprivation fairy. I have orders to wake you at 11:07, 11:43, 12:16, 12:52, 1:11..." The girl replies "You're a frigging butterfly! I'm going to get the insect spray!".
Sleep deprivation fairy cartoon by Simone.
  • Lack of sleep makes it difficult to concentrate and harder to remember what you’ve learned.
  • It can reduce your ability to make connections between thoughts and ideas.
  • It can contribute to depression and other mental health difficulties.
  • Finally, it can increase blood pressure and stress hormones and depress the immune system.

The amygdala, an area deep in the brain, is our emotional control centre. Sleep deprivation appears to cause the amygdala to overreact to negative stimuli because it becomes disconnected from brain areas that normally moderate its response.

This is why it is so important to develop and maintain a good sleep routine. Keep this in mind when considering late night revision sessions or pulling an all-nighter.

10 tips for a positive sleep schedule.

Photo of a large brown dog asleep on a pink bed. Its eyes are covered by a knitted eye mask.
Ambient light control methods for the fashion forward. Photo from dogster.
  1. Only use your bed for sleeping. Try not to use your bed for doing work.
  2. Make sure your bed and bedroom are comfortable and conducive for sleep – not too hot, not too cold (between 16-18°C), and not too noisy.
  3. Avoid using computers, phones or tablets late at night. Blue light from screens can disrupt sleep rhythms.
  4. Take some time to relax properly before going to bed. Develop rituals to remind your body that it is time to sleep: have a hot bath, meditate, read a non-work book, listen to a nodcast.
  5. Sleep only when sleepy. If you cannot sleep, get up and do something you find relaxing. Avoid lying in bed worrying about not sleeping.

    Photo of a handmade wooden worry box, Painted on the inner lid of the open box in blue paint are the words "Tell me your worry before bed. By morning gone". The interior of the box is red and a blue cross is painted on the inner bottom of the box.
    Handmade Worry Box. Image by noirsolaris.
  6. If something is troubling you try writing it down. Tell yourself to deal with it tomorrow and shut it away.
  7. Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Establish a regular time to have breakfast. Reinforce your biological rhythms.
  8. If you have a bad night, don’t sleep in the next day as it will make it harder to get to sleep the following night. Stick to your schedule and continue with your daytime activities as usual, even if you feel tired.
  9. Exercising regularly can encourage good sleep. However, it is best to avoid strenuous exercise or activity in the 4 hours before bedtime.
  10. Try to avoid eating and drinking caffeine or alcohol too close to bedtime, as this can interfere with the ability to fall asleep as well as impairing the quality of sleep.

The Sleep Council have a 30 Day Better Sleep Plan which you can try. It’s free, which already makes it sound good to us.

Our local Psychological Therapies team can also help you work on long-term sleep problems. You can refer yourself to them, so long as you are registered with a GP in the area.