coffee mug steaming

We’ve all been there. Sitting in that 8:30 am lecture, valiantly attempting to pay attention to the history of some unpronounceable European country, but you simply can’t. Your eyelids feel like they weigh a hundred pounds each, and you spend more time fighting to stay awake than actually paying attention. Even coffee, the one thing you hoped could save you, just makes you twitchy and over- caffeinated without helping. Fortunately, we have some tips to help you get a better night’s sleep and ace your exams.

As students, there are a lot of factors that can interrupt natural sleep patterns, the most destructive being inconsistency. As your assignments and schedule vary, your bedtime can jump frantically around from 11pm to 4am to not sleeping at all. The prevailing theory is that if you’ve been missing sleep, you can just sleep in for a while the next day to help. Unfortunately, that’s a myth. The most effective way to sleep better is to stay in sync with your natural circadian rhythm. It sounds fancy, but all it means is that your body will release the sleep hormone melatonin when it gets dark. That’s partly why everyone always falls asleep when the professor shows a video with the lights off; it’s your eyes telling your brain that it’s time to sleep. Try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day. This will help your body establish a better internal clock, and you’ll feel much more energized and refreshed than if you sleep at different times every night.

1. Try to control your exposure to light.

If possible, let natural light into your workspace or home during the day, or just take a break and get outside for a little while. This isn’t essential, but it will help. What’s more important are your habits closer to bedtime.

The difference matters.

2. You should avoid bright screens within 1-2 hours of your bedtime.

Since the blue light emitted by many devices (like your phone) can be destructive to healthy sleep habits. Even turning your brightness down can be beneficial. If you want to take it a step further and tweak your laptop a bit, you can use software such as f.lux, which alters the composition of light on your screen to warmer colors that don’t interrupt sleep as much. Other ways to control light exposure include making sure the room is dark when you’re trying to sleep. This one seems obvious, but there are different levels of darkness.

Try to keep the room as dark as possible: use heavy shades to block windows, and cover up electronics that emit light even when not in use.

3. Eat right!

This sounds difficult for students on a budget, but you don’t have to start dieting just to sleep better. Just manage your habits a little: avoiding big meals late at night will help a lot. You’ve probably heard your parents say it a million times, but late-night snacking isn’t totally advisable. Eating less sugary foods in general during the day will also limit wakefulness at night.

Maybe not. (Unless it’s finals week. We get it.)

Okay. We’ve got some tools to help us sleep better, so at least we’ll be awake in class. But you’re still trapped under a mountain of work, not to mention everything else you have going on in your life. Fortunately, we can help you increase your productivity too.

1). One of the most important productivity skills is time management. Yes, you’ve heard it repeated ad nauseam, but bear with us. It’s difficult to estimate how much time is passing, either when working or web surfing because you need a break. Fortunately, tools like Rescue Time can help you gauge exactly how much time you’re spending on your actual task, as well as on social media or apps. This way, it’s easier to stick to self-imposed schedules, instead of going way over time on breaks.

If you’re a 90’s cartoon character, you’ve probably experienced this feeling before.

2). That leads nicely into another helpful tool: taking regular breaks. Studies have shown that when you break up a long job, your performance stays consistent and you can maintain a better quality of work, instead of running yourself ragged by trying to do that whole paper in one sitting.

3). In that vein, try to break up large tasks. Plan out the different parts that are required for your project to reach fruition, and break them down into more manageable tasks. You’ll feel less daunted by even a large task, since you turned it into multiple smaller ones.

With these tips, you can fight the struggle of early morning fatigue, and get the most out of your day. Happy studying!

Matt Miani

I'm Matt, and I'm a freshman student at the University of Washington, intending on studying computer science for game design and digital art. I love all manner of things weird and scary, including horror movies, true crime and odd books from creepy used book stores. If you have any questions about me or my writing, feel free to message me at I can also be reached at (201) 314-7330.

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