University-related dreams and nightmares are common among students

How good are your sleep habits? Turns out that more than 80 per cent of students are having university-related dreams, finds new research 

December 12 2017

More than eight in 10 students have university-related dreams or nightmares that interrupt their sleep, according to new research.

Job-hunting mobile app Debut polled 1,331 university students on their sleep habits and the things they do to try to drift off to sleep. Some 84 per cent said that dreams or nightmares about university interrupt their sleep. 

The top five sleep-disrupting dreams recalled by the 84 per cent were:

1. Exams (being late/not attending/not able to complete them)
2. Failing exams, their course or university altogether
3. People and relationships
4. Health (teeth and hair falling out/not being able to breathe)
5. Debt.

Some 69 per cent of students stated that they slept an average of seven hours a night, but 74 per cent often forfeited sleep in order to study, complete assignments or revise for exams. 

As a result, 41 per cent of the participating students admitted to falling asleep in lectures or seminars at least once. 

When asked about sleep during exam season, 69 per cent said that their sleep was negatively affected in the lead-up to and during this period. 

The sleep study also revealed the top things that students do to help them go to sleep, and sleep physiologist and director of the Sleepyhead Clinic Stephanie Romiszewski analyses them to see how effective they are. 

What the students said they do

What Stephanie Romiszewski says

Using the "night shift" mode on mobiles to reduce light intake (57 per cent)

All types of light reduce our melatonin (sleepy) hormones. Even when a smartphone is set to night shift, the stimulation from the tech is still there, during a time when your body is physiologically trying to wind down. By staying on your phone, or laptop, working or doing very stimulating activities, you are actively fighting that "wind-down" process.  

Listening to classical/relaxing music (40 per cent)

If the music you choose doesn’t increase your heart rate (think exercise playlists), then this is a great way to wind down. Set a timer to turn the music off once you have fallen asleep, as it will stop you going into the stages of deep sleep that you so desperately need.

Exercise (34 per cent)

Exercise is great – not just for sleep but for anxiety too. It might seem strange to rapidly increase your heart rate to reduce anxiety and promote sleep, but some sweat-producing exercise in the day will do wonders for both. But try not to exercise just before bed as this will make it more difficult for your body to wind down in the short term. 

Writing things down to clear head (29 per cent)

Writing things down is a great process, but it depends on how and when you do it. Try to do this an hour or so before bed so you have time for those thoughts to pop up, and deal with them early. Make a realistic and achievable to-do list for the next day. Similarly, "getting ready" for bed just before going to bed is unhelpful (ie, getting night clothes on, changing the sheets, brushing teeth in a well-lit bathroom). Do it an hour or so before bed, then then have some downtime until you feel sleepy enough to slip into bed.

Using mobile apps such as Headspace/Sleepcycle (23 per cent)

Apps such as Headspace help you relax – but they are never going to be as effective as they could be if you use them only at night. Using apps as a short-term fix to quickly wind down for sleep isn’t going to help improve your sleep long term. Try to see these aids as more of a lifestyle change to help you become calmer and more relaxed in general and that will help your sleep in the long term. Perhaps avoid apps that track your sleep – they can make you more anxious if you don’t see the results you want.

Read more: How to deal with exam stress

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