How to Sleep Better, Be More Alert and Maintain Study Focus

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By Sophie 

We always feel sleepy at the wrong times.

When it’s time to hit the books, our eyes suddenly start to droop. And when it’s bedtime, we miraculously find ourselves able to stay up for another hour or so. And if we nap between study sessions, sometimes it goes on for hours!

We are supposed to feel rested and recharged after we sleep, so that we can study better afterwards. But do you really feel that way? Or are you overwhelmed by your long list of challenges and to-do’s?

Sleep is crucial to our mood, state-of-mind and productivity. So it’s important to know how to best utilise it to boost our health and alertness. Fortunately, you can learn to sleep better – starting with our tips in this article!

Overview
I know you are time-starved. But do invest the time to read and apply as many of these tips as you can: it’ll pay dividends. They are structured as a short, specific, but easy-to-do checklist, categorised into 5 groups: sleep hygiene, sleep routine, diet, exercise and naps. 

Sleep Hygiene
In essence, this is all about getting your body ready for a good night’s sleep without over-stimulating it.

#1. Respect the bedroom
Your bedroom is your sanctuary: a quiet, peaceful place for rest. Try not to work there lying on the bed, not only it’s not effective, but you don’t want to associate your place of rest with stress, really.

#2. Purge the bedroom
A little electronic devices clean-out may be overdue. In such age of modern technology, we probably have at least 2 screens each: smartphones, tablets, laptops, Kindle, TV etc. If possible, try leaving those items in the living room or turned off 1-2 hours before bedtime (except your phone if you need them for alarms).

#3. Create optimal sleep conditions
Control the holy trinity of light, noise and temperature for the best quality sleep. Think of your bedroom as a cave: it should be cool, quiet and dark.

  • The darker the room, the better the sleep because light interferes with production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. Get new curtains or sleep mask if you need to.
  • Noise, an obvious one. Earplugs are a good solution here. Some people prefer some gentle music while sleeping, choose what works for you.
  • Your body drops in temperature as you fall asleep. A comfortable yet cool room environment around 15C-20C (60F-68F) is seen as ideal.


2. Establish a Bedtime Routine 
This shouldn’t sound strange, as you know there are weirder rituals out there. We all have our own internal ‘body-clocks’. Having irregular sleep-wake cycle will mess with your sense of balance. The trick here is to create your own routine that works for you.

#4. Find your inner peace
We all need some time to wind down prior to a good sleep. Allocate 30-60 minutes before sleeping to read (fiction), meditate, listen to relaxing music, have a long bath/walk/pre-bedtime snack etc. – choose what works for you and stick to it. 

#5. Wake up the same time everyday
Even on weekends, preferably without alarm clocks. This is because the type of sleeping phase that you are awoken in matters. If your alarm disrupts during your deepest sleep phase (REM), you’ll be a groggy monster for most of the day.

Try waking up without alarms on weekends, and adjusting your bedtime such that you’ll rise naturally on weekdays as practice. Give your new sleep routine time to adjust and be a habit, this usually takes around 10 days.
 
3. Diet
We are what we eat. How we age, look and feel are partially a result of what we choose to fuel ourselves with, which affects our energy level and amount of shut-eye needed.  ​

#6. Eat better
Choose fresh, unprocessed and natural food as often as you can. Basically food items that involve the least amount of processing from the farms to your table. So yes to vegetables, nuts, fresh eggs and meat; no to microwave/frozen meals, sugary cereals, hotdogs, biscuits. Your body will physically feel better, and choosing the right foods will also feed your brain well.

#7.  No alcohol or caffeine post dinner.
Alcohol is a depressant and will help you get to sleep. The issue is it depresses everything in your system including your metabolism and disrupts REM sleep, a critical sleep phase for both brain and body health.

Coffee’s not the only culprit, but fizzy drinks such as Coke and Pepsi contain caffeine too. If you have to have caffeine (I do love my coffee), do it earlier in the day, no more than 2 cups and nothing 6 hours prior to bedtime.

#8. Eat breakfast within 1 hour of waking up
 Just like natural light, this acts as a cue to reset your body clock. Remember tip #6 though, have a healthy breakfast, preferably a high protein, non sugary one.

#9. Eat lighter in the evening
As the saying goes: eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. Large meals require large amount of blood flow directed towards the digestive system. Less blood flow for the brain = less energy = poorer sleep quality since brain conducts all sleeping processes.

#10. Have balanced meals
Just like the bedtime routine, having a ‘meal routine’ is useful too. Eating at regular intervals, similar times daily and in moderation trains our body to operate efficiently with minimal energy (hence mood) swings.
 
4. Exercise
You know this was coming already…

#11. Aim for 2.5 hours of exercise a week
Not only does exercising make you tired and thus makes your body eager to sleep, it also releases the endorphins which helps you feel less stressed. It improves attention span and productivity too, which is exactly what you need in managing your CFA studies with other commitments. Morning or afternoon exercise helps you fall asleep faster with less trouble, just don’t exercise right before bedtime, it has the opposite effect.

5. Napping Well
Naps increase alertness and performance on the job, banishes negative thinking and enhance learning ability. 

#12. Most effective nap length = 10 min
Nappers are not lazy, in fact they tend to be more productive. Studies have shown that a 10 minute long nap is optimal. Even if you don’t have that long (at work), a few minutes of shut-eye break have shown significant reduction in fatigue and increase in performance. 

But if you are sleep deprived, it may be difficult not to over-nap, and hence best to focus on other tips, especially #5, to reboot your sleep cycle. Napping is a skill, it takes some practice to get it right. Try training yourself with an alarm clock to start.

What’s your ‘sleep score’?

Only 5 out of 12 so far for me, 7 more habits to form! What’s your sleep better “score” like? Do you have more tips to add? Let us all know in the comments below! 

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6 thoughts on “How to Sleep Better, Be More Alert and Maintain Study Focus”

  1. Might I suggest a great tool that I stumbled upon and have used for quite some time now: http://sleepyti.me/ It is a tool that calculates when you should fall asleep or, alternatively, to what time you should set your alarm. It is based on the idea that we sleep in cycles and the best way to wake up refreshed is to wake up at the end of cycles and not the middle. Just keep in mind that it gives you the time you should be falling asleep and not just simply going to bed. The average person takes 14 minutes to fall asleep, but if you’re like me I always give myself a half hour start.

    Reply
    • Hi DollarsToDonuts, Good suggestion! The calculator seems like a good general guide for the circadian rhythm. I had also looked (and tested) various sleep apps on Android, there just seem too complicated and I’m doubtful whether the complication is really accurate or useful. Thanks for the recommendation! Sleep studies are so interesting 🙂

      Reply
  2. Hey, Great post mate!….I am taking Level 3 CFA this June…very often I reach a zone where stuff stops going to my head ,no matter how much I try…Your post will help me in some ways I guess!

    Reply
  3. Love this list! One of my goals this year was to remove things from my to-do list. It was overwhelming and wasn’t moving me to wards my ultimate goals. I had to decide which things had to go so that I could focus more energy on more productive/effective projects. Sleep is tough for me. My fiance is a horrible sleeper (loves the TV, has health problems) and my sleep is often impacted by his. I try to get to sleep earlier to make up for the tossing and turning, but it doesn’t always work.

    Reply
    • Hi Dona Collins, Good to see you around! That’s a great goal, I tend to fall into that trap often myself. Minimalism and decluttering is definitely the way to go. I hope that’s working out well so far? Wow, that’s tough, especially from a light sleeper like me. I totally get your frustration, as the slightest bit of sound, movement or light wakes me immediately. Have you tried beds that have 2 separate mattresses (but placed next to each other)? It may help your case?

      Reply

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