With late night parties and early morning lectures, it’s no surprise that many students fail to get enough sleep. But even in a short period of time this can have an impact on your academic abilities and it was recently revealed that it can also reduce your ability to fight infection, leaving you more susceptible to the dreaded Fresher’s Flu.

How much sleep does my body need?

You may be able to survive on 4 hours sleep and a stack of caffeinated drinks for a couple of days, but if you want to feel naturally focused and alert, just try getting a good night’s sleep. The average adult needs seven to eight hours sleep a night and teenagers need closer like nine. Furthermore, if you get less than 6 you risk impairing your immune system – and you’ll probably find yourself getting rather grouchy too!

But it’s not all about quantity, it’s also about quality.  Sleep occurs in regular cycles that last around one hundred minutes, alternating between non-REM and REM sleep. It is during the REM sleep that dreams occur and there are typically 3-5 of these cycles per night. If you’re repeatedly woken up before being allowed to enter into the deeper stages of sleep, your brain won’t be able to get the full benefit and you’ll feel cranky during the day. So if you have noisy housemates it may be worth investing in a pair of ear plugs to ensure you get your forty winks.

Why do we need sleep?

The fact that we spend a third of our lives with our eyes shut may seem incredibly dull when there are far more exciting things to be done, but sleep is essential for retaining our cognitive abilities. No one knows exactly why our bodies need sleep, but the effects of what happens when we miss out on it have been widely documented. Small deficits can affect speech, memory and the ability to reason, while larger deficits can cause everything from hallucinations to death.

If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter you’re probably familiar with the irritability and grogginess that follows the day after, and in fact staying awake for 17 hours results in an impact on performance equal to drinking two glasses of wine. So it really does pay off to get your assignments started early, rather than leaving it down to the wire.

Can I make up for it at the weekend?

Everyone loves a lie-in at the weekend, but while it may help to reduce your accumulated sleep debt, it won’t entirely write it off. What’s more it may even further disrupt your sleep/wake cycle, making it harder to get up come Monday.

Why can’t I get to sleep?

If you struggle to get to sleep at night it could be down to one of the following:

  • Stress – If your brain’s busy worrying it can seem impossible to relax. If you get into bed and your mind’s filled with a thousand different things, try doing calming exercises like Yoga or Pilates just before bed. Playing meditative music can also help.
  • Late Night Stimulus – Despite what you may be thinking, this doesn’t just mean what goes on between the sheets, it also includes any form of stimulus to your brain. Using electronics late at night can confuse your brain into thinking that it’s still day, while anything that increases your heart rate will boost adrenalin production and make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Irregular Sleep/Wake Cycle – If it’s the middle of the night and you’re simply not tired, it may be that you’ve knocked your body clock out of line. Try adjusting it slightly by a few minutes every day until you get back to normal.
  • Depression – Many people with depression suffer from insomnia and a bout of insomnia can often precede a bout of depression. The link between the two is unclear, but if you’ve suffered from depression in the past you should view the insomnia as a warning sign and seek medical help.
  • Nicotine/ Caffeine – Both of these drugs can interfere with your sleeping patterns, so make sure not to drink any caffeinated drinks late in the day and try to cut down on your smoking.