What to do when you can't sleep before an exam

by Tina Sendin January 31, 2019 4 min read

What to do when you can't sleep before an exam

Sleep before exams can be elusive.

Losing sleep is frustrating, tiring and can seem like the end of the world to a young scholar who wants to do the best possible on an exam.

And trying to get to sleep can be a vicious cycle, according to the University of Cincinnati Health. The more time passes that you lie sleepless in bed, the more difficult it becomes to fall asleep, and the more you worry. The more you worry, the more upset you get emotionally and physically.

But according to the University of Cincinnati Health, if you miss a night or two of sleep, most people can still function well. [1] Even though it may seem disastrous if you don’t get to sleep the night before a test, all may not be lost.

 

SLEEP TECHNIQUES BEFORE EXAMS

Here’s the most important tip about sleeping before exams:

Avoid studying until the last minute.

If you get your studying done well before the exam, you may be able to get your usual sleep time.

Cal Adler, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Co-Director of the UC Mood Disorders Center, says getting to sleep the night before exams may come more easily if students have a well-established sleep pattern. [2]

However, we know that that’s ideal. Oftentimes, students can’t help but cram the night before the big day.

In these cases, the following tips may be helpful: [3]

  • The first thing you should try is to get out of bed and do something unexciting. After just 20 minutes of lying sleepless in bed, go to another room in low lighting and listen to some type of quiet music. Or read a book that you’ve read previously so you don’t get caught up in it and so you don’t get excited by the plot. Don’t get back in bed until you feel sleepy again.
  • Perform some light exercise before bed… without overdoing it.
  • Do NOT overeat the night before an exam
  • Bathing or showering before going to bed
  • Don’t try to add more studying time if you don’t fall asleep right away. Just get in bed even if you believe you’ll be unable to sleep quickly.
  • Listening to relaxing music and steering clear of hard rock
  • If you do need to get up to go to the bathroom, maintain low lighting. Bright lights are stimulating and should be avoided when you’re trying to sleep.
  • Some other techniques include progressive relaxation. Tense and relax the muscles of first your scalp, then your face. Leave them relaxed, then move down the body, continuing to the neck, the shoulders, the chest, the stomach and back and the buttocks, thighs, calves and finally the feet. Contract these muscles, then relax them. Or you can start at your feet and work your way up to your head.

NO ALCOHOL BEFORE EXAMS

It may sound like common sense but alcohol before exams isn’t the brightest idea.

Aside from a potential hangover, drinking alcohol can interfere with the restorative REM sleep time that happens occasionally throughout a night’s sleep cycle. The more you drink, the worse the interference. [2]

“Alcohol may seem to be helping you to sleep, as it helps induce sleep, but overall it is more disruptive to sleep, particularly in the second half of the night,” researcher Irshaad Ebrahim, medical director at The London Sleep Centre in the U.K, told WebMD. “Alcohol also suppresses breathing and can precipitate sleep apnea. … Alcohol should not be used as a sleep aid, and regular use of alcohol as a sleep aid may result in alcohol dependence.”

What to do when you can't sleep before an exam

YOU CAN’T FORCE SLEEP

“You can’t force yourself to sleep,” says Scott Ries, a professor at the UC Mood Disorders Center.

“It’s something that relies on your being able to let go. Think of all the times when you fall asleep at night when you’re reading a book or watching television or attending a dinner party. You can barely keep your eyes open, because you are not trying to sleep. And then, the night before something big, you go to bed and think, ‘I have to get a good night’s sleep!’ And that worry begins to ruminate in your mind. Plus you are worrying about the stressful event that you will be facing tomorrow. So you already have one worry, and now you’re adding another one.  Your brain is going to alert itself to a problem out there, and it is going to try to keep you awake.”

He emphasized that his remarks were directed at people who usually are fine falling asleep, not people who suffer from serious sleep disorders.

When all else fails, there are techniques you can do to get better sleep. These include guided visualization and imagery, breathing exercises, counting backwards, mindfulness techniques.

Read these bedtime relaxation techniques here.

Successful entrepreneurs and the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world have their own sleep hacks too. 

Read the sleep hacks of successful entrepreneurs here.

 

Tina Sendin
Tina Sendin


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