Jack Barton is a PhD researcher in psychology at Manchester. Here, he gives his tips for getting a good night’s sleep during the mayhem of Welcome Week.
So, you’ve got the grades and you’re off on your first academic adventure in a strange place. I remember all three times I started off as a fresher (I know, I clearly loved it that much) and I’m aware of the excitement and fear that came with a new start.
The first things you might be thinking about are how to make new friends, how to feel comfortable in your new home, and (at some point) how to prepare for the work ahead. However, many basic necessities tend to go out the window during the whirlwind of Welcome Week. With so much going on to grab your attention this leaves little time to think, let alone do anything else.
Yet, there’s one particularly important thing which many freshers ignore during this time: sleep.
So, why might Welcome Week be an infamous time of sleeplessness? Well, a mixture of being in a new place, alcohol, freshers’ flu and being bombarded with a mountain of things to try to fit into the day tends to get in the way of drifting off at night.
What can you do about it? It just so happens that I have some top tips prepared to help you get some ‘good’ sleep during your welcome week.
Say it with me: beds are for sleep, not food (or work, or concocting evil plans)
Keep the bedroom for sleeping as much as possible. This might seem hard when your room is likely the only space you have to yourself, but try to segment the room into work space and sleep space.
Try not to work in bed as this will make it harder to switch off when you do eventually turn off that light, and this can lead to longer term sleeping difficulties.
Stick to a bedtime routine to aid sleep
Some people want to sleep at 9pm, others at 2am – that is absolutely fine. However, regardless of what time your body tells you to sleep, try to listen to it and keep consistent with it. Your body’s clock is relatively flexible, but you will struggle if you subject it to an all-nighter one night and then expect to get to sleep at a normal time the following day.
This also goes for when the deadlines start piling in. An all-nighter may be the only option the night before an essay is due, but it’s a false economy to think that not sleeping will produce work comparable to when you’re well-rested – trust me!
Avoid caffeine before bed
This should be fairly obvious, but caffeine stays in your system for much longer than you might think. If you have no trouble sleeping, then there is some leeway here, but if you do find you’re struggling to drift off at night, avoid caffeine after about 2pm to maximise your chances of a good night’s sleep.
Naps are a student’s best friend
I was never any good at napping until university, and I suspect many of you will experience much the same transition from “won’t nap” to “please, please let me nap”. Although brief slumbers during the day are no replacement for a good night’s sleep, naps as short as 10-20 minutes can help you mitigate the worst effects of a late night and give you a fighting chance of facing course inductions.
Avoid screens before bed
Again, this is one you have probably heard plenty of times, but stop checking your phone just before bed! If you must, then make sure you have a blue-light filter to minimise the sleep-inhibiting effects of the blue wavelength rich light from your phone or e-reader.
There’s even some evidence to suggest that simply shining blue light at the back of your knees is enough to reset your body clock and keep you feeling awake for longer. Hopefully, that’s not your primary way of using a tablet or phone, though!
Look after your physical and mental health
Welcome Week is a time for new experiences, new friends and some great memories that will stick with you for a long time. I still remember my first week at university fondly. However, among all the late nights, parties, and questionable meal choices, try to give some love for your physical health by keeping active. This will benefit both your sleep and mental health.
Alongside your physical health, your mental health is important during the first week of university. Poor sleep can negatively impact your mental wellbeing and it is important to recognise if you need to take a night off at any point. A single night’s break from a full-on week can reduce your risk of being prematurely being struck down by freshers’ flu and help to reduce your mounting sleep debt.
Remember, you will have at least three years at university, and there will be plenty of opportunities to do everything you can do during Welcome Week – again, trust me.
Take home message
Now I don’t expect your sleep to be perfect during Welcome Week and this will likely be by choice. I can’t pretend my sleep was anything to cheer about during that period, but 9am lectures quickly shifted my body clock back to a regular schedule.
Sleep loss can have numerous negative consequences and we all differ considerably in how sensitive we are to a lack of sleep. Try to keep this in mind as you go through Welcome Week and move on to the rest of your first academic year. Keep these tips in the back of your head and hopefully you won’t be too exhausted by the end of it all, but see the extra links below if you do continue to suffer from sleeping problems.
Now, all I can say at this point is enjoy your time at Manchester. You are coming to one of the best places in the world (no bias, honest) which is here to cater for any and every personality. Get involved with as much, or as little, as you see fit, but just do me one small favour – don’t skimp on your sleep!
Additional help and resources
- Counselling Service
- Nightline (the number is on the back of your student card)
- The science behind insomnia (Sleepio)
- Insomnia: overview, causes, self-help and treatment (NHS)