Sleep difficulties

Would love to get a good night's sleep but you can't? Not sleeping well is a common problem and often happens when you need your sleep most! But fear not, there are many things you can do to improve your sleep.

Many people who have sleep difficulties start to sleep poorly for some understandable reasons, such as financial difficulties or relationship problems. However, after the crisis passes, the bad sleep can continue - and it becomes a habit.

Poor sleep can take a number of different forms. Common ones are:

  • trouble falling asleep
  • worrying or thinking too much in bed
  • worrying about not sleeping
  • waking up frequently in the night and having trouble falling asleep again (waking frequently itself is not necessarily a problem)

Sleep difficulties can impact on your studies, as when people feel tired they can have difficulties with their concentration and memory. The following ideas may help you to overcome your difficulties with sleep. It may also be helpful to make an appointment with the Deakin Counselling service or the Deakin Medical Centre to discuss your sleep difficulties further.

Ideas to overcome sleep problems

  • Lie down to sleep ONLY when you are actually sleepy - sleepiness comes in waves that are usually an hour and a half apart; so learn to surf the waves!
  • Associate bed with sleep. It should not be the place where you study, watch TV or read - unless, of course, these activities help you fall asleep!
  • If you are able to lie in bed resting peacefully and not thinking too much, stay there. Resting peacefully is nearly as restorative as sleeping. If you don't fall asleep within about 30 minutes after turning out the light, and this is making you feel anxious, get up. Go to another room, and do something that is not going to wake you up even more. Read, knit or watch TV - this is not the time to pop an exercise DVD on!
  • If you return to bed and don't fall asleep within 30 minutes or if you wake in the night and have trouble getting back to sleep, repeat step 3.
  • It is really important to get up at the same time every morning, regardless of how long you have slept - this helps your body to develop a consistent sleep rhythm.
  • Conversely, try to go to bed at the same time each night. Ideally, for an adult, this will be anywhere from 7 to 10 hours before you need to wake up. Many people mistake the amount they need to sleep, and fret that they are not getting 8 hours each night, when they would thrive on only 6. If you spend an hour each night tossing and turning before you fall asleep, maybe you are literally just going to bed too early.
  • Do something to unwind at the end of each day. Go for a leisurely walk, learn yoga, have a hot bath, get a massage, meditate... We often know what we need to do, but we convince ourselves we haven't got the time. You can get to the point where your body has forgotten what it feels like to really relax.
  • During the day, try to get at least 20 minutes of exercise. If you feel you may have any underlying health problems, see a doctor or a naturopath.
  • Eat at least two hours before you retire. If you have trouble getting to sleep, cut down on spicy, rich and cheesy foods. Complex carbohydrates, especially those found in oats and other whole grains, are very good in helping you to doze.
  • Try to stop studying an hour before bed so you have enough time to relax before you go to bed.
  • Learn to reduce thinking and worrying in bed. For most people, this is the hard bit! Try keeping a note pad next to your bed where you can write things down and tell yourself "I will think about this in the morning"
  • Reduce caffeine intake.
  • Ensure good sleep hygiene.

Contact a counsellor on campus if your worries persist. They can help you to put things into perspective and provide some much needed support during the difficult times.

Getting help at Deakin

Additional resources

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