Dealing With Insomnia at University

Whilst your time at university can be incredibly enjoyable and rewarding, it is not without its stresses. Juggling lectures, seminars, and essay writing, with cooking, cleaning, and budgeting, as well as finding time to socialise, can really start to take its toll on students. Stress can manifest itself in any number of different ways; chest pains, headaches, fatigue, digestive problems, overeating, dizziness, alcohol and drug abuse, among many other signs and symptoms.

Another common sign of stress amongst students is also insomnia. Problems with sleep can further exasperate the symptoms of stress, leading to a vicious circle. During periods of high stress it’s important to rest, relax, eat properly, and get enough sleep. Suffering with insomnia can therefore lead to your stress being prolonged and worsened, so it’s vital that you recognise the signs and work towards improving your situation.

What are the symptoms of insomnia?

If any of the following sounds like you then you may be suffering with insomnia:

  • Difficulty in falling asleep
  • Lying awake for long periods at night time
  • Waking up several times during the night
  • Waking up very early in the morning and being unable to get back to sleep
  • Not feeling refreshed upon waking up
  • Feeling very tired during the day but not being able to nap
  • Feeling tired and irritable during the day and having difficulty concentrating

Everyone needs a different amount of sleep, so there are no official guidelines on how much you should be getting. However, the average adult typically requires between seven and nine hours sleep per night, although some may require less, while some may require more. Rather than focusing on how many hours sleep you should be getting each night, it’s more important to focus on getting good quality, restful sleep.

What causes insomnia?

It may not always be entirely clear what has caused your insomnia, but the following things are often cited as playing a part:

  • Mental health conditions like stress, anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia
  • Lifestyle factors such as shift work or drinking caffeine or alcohol late at night
  • Environmental factors like an uncomfortable bed or a room that is too hot, cold, noisy, or bright
  • Physical health conditions including things like heart conditions and long-term chronic pain
  • Certain medications like antidepressants, steroid medication, and epilepsy medication

How can you deal with your insomnia?

If you feel that your insomnia has been caused by one of the underlying factors listed above, dealing with that factor can be a good place to start. For example, if stress or depression is to blame you can see your doctor for a referral to a counsellor; if your insomnia is caused by environmental factors you could try a new duvet or some blackout curtains.

Whether you’re unsure what has caused your insomnia, or are looking for a holistic approach to resetting your circadian rhythm and getting your sleeping pattern back to your individual version of normal, here are a few things you can try:

  • Create a peaceful sleeping environment: In an ideal world your bedroom would be reserved for resting and sleeping. However, most students typically use their bedrooms for studying, eating, watching TV, and hanging out with friends as well as sleeping. All of this activity taking place in your room can make it feel anything but a restful place to be. If you have a communal living and dining area in your accommodation try to eat your meals there, and try to use the university library for studying and essay-writing where possible, keeping your bedroom as a sanctuary for relaxation and sleep.
  • Make sure your bed is comfortable: As a student you don’t tend to have much control over the furniture available to you as the vast majority of student houses are fully furnished. However, there are some things you can do to make your bed more comfortable. A cushioned or memory foam mattress topper can provide extra comfort, and you may wish to invest in a good quality duvet with a suitable tog for whatever the current climate is, as well as some comfortable pillows and soft cotton bedding.
  • Sleep and wake at the same time: A student’s sleep pattern can be pretty erratic at times. Pulling all-nighters to get essays done or partying into the early hours of the morning and then dragging yourself to lectures hungover and fuelled by copious amounts of caffeine and sugar will eventually take its toll on your sleep routine. If insomnia is becoming a problem, knock those late nights on the head and try to get back into a routine of sleeping and waking at the same time each day, even on weekends. It will be difficult at first and you may lie there for hours before falling asleep, but eventually your body will get used to it and you’ll start to naturally sleep and wake at these times.
  • Take regular exercise: If you find that you’re having trouble falling asleep regularly, try increasing the amount of exercise that you do. It can be something as simple as walking to university instead of taking the bus, going swimming a few times a week, or practising yoga at a class or at home. Regular moderate exercise can help to relieve some of the tension and stress that builds up during the day, and using up energy with exercise also means your body has more need for rest. However, doing vigorous exercise too close to bedtime can be counterproductive so aim to do it earlier in the day for the best results.
  • Cut down on caffeine and alcohol: Caffeine is a stimulant and it interferes with your body’s process of falling asleep. Try to avoid tea, coffee, and fizzy drinks that contain caffeine after lunchtime. Instead, opt for water, herbal teas, and juice during the day, and try a warm, milky drink in the evening. Alcohol also interferes with your ability to fall into deep sleep so it is best avoided if you’re suffering with insomnia. Having a nightcap may help you to drop off but it won’t help you to have a restful night so it’s not worth it.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine: There’s a reason why parents are so keen to establish a bedtime routine for babies and toddlers: humans are habitual and we need routine and structure in our lives. Try to establish a routine in the evening, for example a warm bath or shower just before bed, followed by a warm milky drink can help. Or you could do some simple yoga stretches to relax your body and mind whilst listening to some soothing music.
  • Cut down on screen time: The light from your TV, laptop, smart phone, and tablet stimulates your brain and is not conducive to falling asleep. Aside from the brightness of the screen, watching a programme or browsing the internet is keeping your brain switched on and active when it should be winding down and getting ready for sleep. Aim to stop using your devices around an hour before you plan on going to sleep; instead you could try reading a book or listening to some relaxing music.
  • Get organised: If you find that your brain goes into overdrive as soon as your head hits the pillow, filling with thoughts about what you need to do the next day, try getting yourself a bit more organised. Make it a part of your evening routine to sit down and take stock of the day and make plans for the following day. Writing your thoughts and to-do lists down helps to stop them whizzing around your head and helps you to switch off your brain and fall asleep.

Whilst your time at university can be incredibly enjoyable and rewarding, it is not without its stresses. Juggling lectures, seminars, and essay writing, with cooking, cleaning, and budgeting, as well as finding time to socialise, can really start to take its toll on students. Stress can lead to insomnia, and suffering with insomnia can lead to your stress being prolonged and worsened, so it’s vital that you recognise the signs and work towards improving your situation.