With exam season in full swing, our sleep expert, Dr Nerina,
offers the following advice to teens and young adults studying for
exams, to help you get a good night's sleep:
- Avoid nutritional stress - eat healthily and stay well
hydrated. Snack healthily to maintain blood sugar levels so that
your brain is able to absorb information. Avoid caffeine after 2pm
so that you can optimise sleep quality.
- Take regular breaks - our ability to concentrate runs in cycles
of roughly 90 minutes. After this time, the working memory in the
prefrontal cortex shuts down and we stop retaining info. Even a
5-10 minute break can help to 'unload' the working memory so we
come back to the task with renewed focus. Get up and move around,
eat a piece of fruit, avoid checking emails and going on the
internet... the aim is to give your brain a complete rest.
- Engage a different part of the brain: related to the above,
give yourself a break by doing something totally different with
your brain such as juggling, using a hula hoop or even playing
darts. Again, this helps to empty the working memory.
- Get good sleep - get into a good sleep routine, wind down
before you go to bed by reading or watching something easy. Don't
study in bed and try to have at least 1 hour free from technology
(Facebook/Twitter included) before getting into bed. Learn how to
power nap. Researchers have shown that even a 5-10 min power nap at
some time between 2 and 5pm can significantly enhance cognitive
- Awareness - pay attention to any 'unusual' symptoms that have
started to pop up,such as headaches, insomnia, IBS, appetite
changes, skin problems, tearfulness, anxiety or depression. These
could be signs that you are not coping.
- Support - related to the above, get some support. Who can you
talk to? Make sure you have good support strategies which might
range from going to the gym and letting off some steam to talking
to a close friend or relative - or keeping a journal.
- Take a deep breath - if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed
and anxious, stop whatever you are doing and take a deep breath
from your belly. As you exhale, imagine that you are blowing out a
candle flame and make the exhalation long and slow. This
immediately has a calming and stress-relieving effect.
- Practise the 'worst possible scenario - we can become
overwhelmed when we don't allow ourselves to confront the anxieties
and fears lurking around in our subconscious. So bring them into
your conscious mind by getting a pencil and paper and brainstorming
all of the things you are afraid might happen if things don't go
the way you hope. Really use your imagination even if it feels a
bit ridiculous. And then ask yourself 'could I live with this
outcome? What could I do if I don't pass this exam'. Again write
out every possible alternative option you can think of and build
- Manage perfectionism - recognise your limits and know when you
are going over them. If possible, set yourself realistic targets,
learn how to ask for help and learn how to say no when the pressure
starts to reach unhealthy levels.
- Positive strokes - acknowledge when you've done something well
and give yourself something to look forward to every day; even if
it's something small like taking time to listen to your favourite,
upbeat piece of music. Stay optimistic even when things look bad.
Take time out to notice even the small things that have gone well,
e.g. getting a seat on a train, a nice cup of tea or a nice text
message from someone. Research shows that people who practise this
sort of exercise are healthier and more able to cope with stress
If you follow these handy tips while you are revising for tests
or exams, you should be able to sleep soundly during this stressful
period. Make sure you get organised and plan ahead to avoid late
night revision and cramming sessions. Good luck!