The Importance of Sleep

As I stood staring at the lapping waves of the English Channel this morning, a little more contemplatively than usual, I reflected on the importance (and pleasure) of sleep. It wasn’t just the prospect of getting in the nine degree water again that made me wish I was back under the comfort of my duvet, it was more the recognition that a good night’s sleep is so important for a productive and effective day. I am lucky in that I can get by on comparatively fewer hours sleep than others. However, it is not the quantity but the quality of the sleep that is important and this is something we need to take seriously.

Sleeping helps us to recover from mental as well as physical exertion and it is closely entwined with health – inadequate sleep can increase the risk of poor health. It can affect mood, concentration and energy levels and has a direct link to mental health problems. Disturbed sleep is often a sign, of course, of anxiety. As we approach the stress-inducing exam season, one often hears advice like, ‘You need to eat well, drink plenty and a get a good night’s sleep.’ But what can we actually do to get a good night’s sleep’? It is easier said than done, isn’t it?

I believe there are three factors we should consider to enhance the quality of our sleep. Firstly, the environment is crucial. Watching TV or a screen of some kind, or checking emails and messages just before switching off the light is not calming and we can be left with over-active minds trying to sort out what we have just seen or read. It is about being relaxed when we sleep and this is the second point: approach. Having a bath, reading a novel for escapism and generally doing something mindful will create that feeling of relaxation which will be enhanced if phones are left downstairs, the room temperature is not too warm and the lighting is dark but not so dark as to be scary, (which depends upon age of course).  Finally one’s lifestyle has an impact. Stimulants like caffeine can make it harder to sleep, as can a heavy or sugary meal consumed too close to bed-time. Taking regular exercise and drinking plenty of water often improves the quality of sleep too and leads to the all-important feeling of freshness in the morning. Ultimately, everyone is different and has their own preferences but taking into account these factors will certainly help and lead to a better performance in the exams and our daily lives. Or you can join me in the sea at 6am if you’d prefer – that will certainly wake you up!

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