Exposing the Night

Iona interviews a number of pupils at Warwick on their sleep, focusing on sleep around exams.

By Iona Craig.

My eyes are glued shut. If I’m lucky a small slit opens but as hard as I try my eye lids are heavier than I could ever lift. I try to move my arm up to pull my eyes open but my arm never arrives. Its also heavy; far too heavy to get near my face. I really want to get up. I really want to be able to get up. Why are my eyes not opening?

I imagine someone walking into the room, I pray for it. I need help. I can’t move. And then all at once my body comes back to me.

I suffer with a condition called sleep paralysis. Around 8% of the population have experienced one episode however it is more problematic as a persistent and continuous condition. For me personally, it happens when I am stressed – and without fail one thing that brings it up, are exams.

We are so often told the importance of sleep, especially when we are required to concentrate on something important. I nearly, very nearly, wrote a blog to highlight why this is true and how to get a good night’s sleep however today – or tonight shall I say – I want to look at sleep slightly differently.

“How would you describe your sleep at university” I asked as if it is possible to summarise approximately a third of our breathing minuets in a few sentences.

a girl asleep with her head on a desk
Image credit: Marcus Aurelius

“Irregular, disrupted and the quality of sleep isn’t great” {Engineering student, male] was one summary while another claimed “sleep at uni is pretty poor…I get around 6 hours” [Engineering student, male]. “Non-existent” [Psychology student, female]. “Terrible” [Business student, female]. Apparently, such a demand was pretty simple. In fact, as the quotes piled up it was pretty much possible to sum up sleep in one word. Bad.

“Do you think exams impact your sleep?” I asked next. One comment suggested exams encouraged controlling sleep routine more than normal – “My sleep is much more structured around exams…I need to maximise productivity in the day” [PPE student, female], while another student stated quite the opposite; that exams controlled their sleep – “Around exams I sleep really badly; I’ll wake up about every half an hour.” [maths student, female]. And then on prompting of any further comments, I heard the words take me back to the morning where I had been unable to move; stuck inside my sleep without consent. “f*cking sleep paralysis…I always get f*cking sleep paralysis”.

There a number of different sleep conditions alongside sleep paralysis, to name a few, insomnia, sleep apnea and periodic limb movement disorder. Insomnia – one of the most commonly heard of ones – is a condition where individuals are unable to fall or stay asleep to the point it interferes with their everyday life. Sleep apnoea refers to difficulties around breathing while asleep and periodic limb movement disorder is a condition where limbs twitch during sleep which often leads to irregular sleep cycles. Although all these conditions have multiple causes, many can be brought on by environmental stresses, to name but one, exams.

If sleep is something you struggle with, it is not something to be ignored. However, it also not something to panic about either. The body is amazingly adaptive and can perform surprisingly well under great amounts of stress. So, although identifying sleep problems and addressing them (and there are many accessible sleep tools available!) is well worth the time it takes, a bad night’s sleep before an exam will not determine the outcome. I think sometimes it is worth remembering this, as the tales of failure unfold in our head the night before a big event. Your sleep is important, yes. And a bad night’s sleep – or many – is not to be undervalued; it can trap us into consciousness, leading it to call on us when we can’t listen then deprive it of us when we most often need it. But in the dark of night remembering how capable we are without it, is not a thought to be forgotten either.

Here at the Study Blog, we want to support your through the exam period. We have a whole host of posts under the Looking After You section of the blog.

How do you sleep during exams? Are you a constant napper, or do you stay up all night to revise? Share us your thoughts in the comments below, by tweeting us @warwicklibrary or by emailing us at libraryblogs@warwick.ac.uk

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