Whether you are in secondary school or undertaking a PhD, there will be nights when being able to sleep is difficult: pulling of an all-nighter in the university library to complete a project just before deadline day or to study for the exam the next morning, are exceptions from which you must spare your body and mind. Sleep plays a paramount role in learning, thinking, and in maintaining the standard levels of cerebral skills such as memory, speech, and thought; but if you are unable to sleep on a typical night, then these cognitive processes are impaired. Apart from reducing the ability to learn, your memory also is damaged since it becomes harder to remember your daily learning and experiences.
1. Loud or uncomfortable backgrounds
Stage one of the sleep cycle starts with the mind being in a drowsy and relaxed state; prior to this, however, our body begins to relax but the brain is still lively, a situation where any form of uneasiness prevents the brain from calming down. The brain may shut off sensory information but noise still enters, thereby awakening it. Deep sleep occurs after a short period of light sleep but disturbance to any of the sleep cycles results in both the quality and the quantity of sleep being reduced.
2. Keep a routine and stick to it
Our natural body clock periodically informs us of fatigue and synchronises our body cells according to a circadian tempo that regulates the daily sleep-wake cycle. This functions primarily through light, to which our eyes react even when shut. As we wake, sunshine sends neurologic signals to stop producing melatonin, the sleep hormone; thus, upon awaking, our alertness increases. Lack of a sufficient amount of sleep diminishes our amount of deep sleep, which is vital for cellular regeneration.
3. Alcohol, caffeine, and food
Having a nightcap to enable you to fall asleep faster is not bad but it is not applicable to everyone; drinking alcohol results in snoring, thereby increasing restlessness resulting from a difficulty to breathe properly. Have too much, however, and it will upset your sleep, especially close to bedtime: it takes our brain directly into deep sleep, skipping on the first and lighter stage. As the effect abates, our mind returns from deep sleep, enabling us to wake up earlier but reducing our REM, or dream, cycles, leaving us exhausted.
Highly caffeinated drinks, of course, reduce our sleep by extending the lighter sleep stages; thus, abandon your caffeine intake after the mornings.
Eating lots or having heavy meals close before sleeping also hinders the ability to sleep; spicy or fatty foods compound that problem by causing heartburn, leading to uncomfortable nights. There are certain foods, such as cheese and nuts, that stimulate and others that have the opposite effect, the examples are carbohydrates such as breads and pasta.
4. The wrong body temperature
Sleep also depends on our body’s core temperature and is controlled by the body’s circadian clock, releasing blood to the face, feet, and hands in order to lose heat towards bedtime; however, this is only by 0.5°C. If the surroundings are too warm, the body is unable to lose heat, leading to uneasiness. If it is too cold, the body loses too much heat, also leading to uneasiness and a lack of sleep.
5. A preoccupied mind
The ultimate rival of a good night’s sleep: stress; your mind is free to wander in bed and apprehension about sleeping enough will plague your mind, worsening the situation. During such states, the brain has fragmented periods of deep sleep, nodding off and waking up periodically. How do you circumvent this problem? Undertake a mentally distracting activity, such as a puzzle or reading a book, before sleeping again.
6. That blue light
Most of us have a habit of reading or watching something on our computers, mobile phones, or televisions prior to sleeping. Each of these forms of electronic media produce a short wavelength blue light similar to daylight, confusing our brains and delaying the production of the sleep hormone – melatonin. Experts recommend stopping the use of these devices at least an hour before sleeping to reduce the effect.