Ph.D. students: they call us dreamers, but we’re the ones who don’t sleep

Trouble sleeping? Maybe we’ve procrastinated for too long and it’s catching up with us and so we have to burn the midnight oil and make a sprint of our writing. Maybe we’ve been going through some emotional hurdles during lockdown and have been finding it difficult to sleep. Maybe you’ve taken some time out of your usual writing schedule to help a friend out. Maybe the imposter syndrome has gotten a strong grip on us and we’re feeling stuck with our writing.

My little one’s gone through another round of bugs from childcare which meant that on top of the usual lack of sleep from trying to balance work and study, it also meant that I had to look after my baby through coughs and sniffles, while hoping that I don’t get sick myself (we took COVID-19 tests and they’ve come back negative). Thankfully there were no fevers, but because of the congestion, nights were especially hard and she needed double the amount of cuddles and nursing. Of course this meant less time for work, household chores, and sleep for me. It’s precious, irreplaceable time though. Look at how quickly 2020 has gone, when it felt like it would never end! She’ll be grown before I know it and then I’ll be complaining about how much I miss her!

So, going back to talking about sleepless nights – while I believe that getting good quality sleep is essential, sometimes we’ll just have to get through a few rough nights while still managing to function during the morning. So when I went to visit our GP, I asked about some things I could do to cope through this period.

Drink lots of water. While it won’t give you a boost, it helps ensure that you get enough hydration through the day. Don’t overdo the caffeine. Try and be strategic with taking your caffeine and making sure it isn’t close to the end of the day when you should be winding down and hopefully trying to get some quality sleep, even if it’s only for a few hours. Sleep fragmentation, such as when you’re awake several times, for at least 20 minutes, over the course of eight hours will leave you more weary than having a solid four hours of sleep. The reason this is more tiring and draining is because each time you wake and then try and fall asleep, your body will have to restart the entire sleep cycle again, which leaves you exhausted. Be cautious of the sugar hit. Sugar only provides a short-term energy boost and will not be able to sustain you for throughout the day. Sunlight. If you have to study and work still, pick a spot in the library that has a lot of natural light, or better yet, pick a shady spot outdoors from some fresh air too. Take short breaks, deep breaths, and a quick walk to get your blood pumping a bit and for a good dose of endorphins. The natural light will also help suppress your body’s production of melatonin which your brain produces as a response to darkness and helps your body prepare you for sleep. Quick nap. If you’re able to, have a quick nap that’s not longer than half an hour. Also, don’t have a nap later than 3 in the afternoon which is getting close to the end of the day when you need to allow your body to wind down for sleep. Prioritise. Lack of sleep will affect your cognitive functions so as much as possible, put a pause on non-urgent tasks and definitely avoid making any big decisions.

For other self-care tips, visit the Wellbeing Hub.

Tagged in what messes with your head, phd, sleep, Student health