Have your last meal at least two hours before bedtime. A full stomach can keep you awake, especially if you’re also stressing about an exam. Avoid heavy, greasy, rich, or spicy food before you sleep, as these foods are harder for your body to digest and can make it more difficult to fall asleep. You could also wake up in the middle of the night with heartburn, which would put a damper on your rest plans.
Eating a light snack before bed is fine. In fact, if you’re feeling hungry you should have a snack, as it could be hard for you to fall asleep with an empty stomach.
Consume foods that are rich in chemicals that help you sleep. Other students may subsist on coca cola and chips during exam season, but you should know better. Eating the right foods can help you get a good night sleep.
Salad. Lettuce contains lactucarium, which has calming and sedative properties. And it’s healthy!
Almonds and walnuts. They contain the amino acid tryptophan, which increases production of the sleep-regulating hormones serotonin and melatonin, helping you to sleep. For a really good sleep, try adding them to your salad.
Bananas. Bananas are high in potassium and magnesium, which help to relax muscles and promote sleep.
Whole-grain cereal. If you like to snack on cereal at night, well, you’re on to something. Whole grain cereal (or better yet, oatmeal) contains B6 (also found in fish like tuna and salmon), which helps produce melatonin. Combined with milk – another sleep aid – it is a great way to promote sleep.
Complex carbs. A bowl of brown rice or some whole-grain crackers can help you sleep. Just avoid simple carbs such as refined breads or pastas, sugary cereals, or fries.
Try a sleep-inducing drink. Eating right can help you sleep, but you won’t want to eat right before getting in bed, as a full stomach can make sleep difficult. You can, however, have a sleep-inducing drink as part of your pre-bed ritual.
Skim milk – Milk contains tryptophan and calcium, which triggers additional tryptophan production. Skim milk is better, as the fat in whole milk can stress the digestive system and make it harder to sleep.
Chamomile tea – This tea contains glycine, an amino acid that acts as a mild sedative. Consider sweetening your tea with honey, which contains tryptophan that will also help you sleep.
Passion fruit tea – This contains Harman alkaloids which help calm your nervous system and which have been shown to improve sleep.
Avoid caffeine or cigarettes after noon. Caffeine remains in your system for 6-14 hours, depending on your metabolism. Nicotine can take 1-10 days for your body to process. Smoking or drinking coffee might make you feel more alert, but it will also make it harder to sleep when you’re done studying.
Stay away from caffeine for at least eight hours before you want to go to sleep. If you must have caffeine during this time, go for very low-caffeine beverages such as green tea, decaf coffee (yep, even decaf has a little caffeine!), or low-caffeine sodas such as root beer or orange soda.
Be wary of using sleeping pills. If you regularly suffer from insomnia, then you may already be using sleeping pills. If you do not, then the night before an exam is not the best time to try them. Antihistamines are the active ingredient in most over-the-counter sleep pills, and they may leave you feeling drowsy long after you wake up, which is less than ideal when trying to take a test.
Don’t worry too much about getting a good night’s sleep. Yes, it’s best if you can go into an exam well rested. But people can still function relatively well with little sleep, so long as they don’t string too many sleepless nights together. And worrying about getting sleep can actually make it hard to fall asleep. The best approach is to understand that more sleep will help, but not to panic if it won’t come.
If you can’t sleep, don’t go back to studying. It is important to let your mind rest, even if you don’t fall asleep. Try the relaxation techniques below first. If you still can’t sleep, read a book or do some other relaxing activity.
Write any nagging thoughts in a journal. A good way to deal with worries or distracting thoughts you can’t get out of your head is to write them down. Putting them in a list means you don’t have to concentrate on remembering them, letting your mind relax.This also helps when meditating. Have a journal nearby so you can jot down any thoughts you can’t get out of your head.
Put your thoughts in a drawer. Napoleon was famous for being able to go to sleep almost instantly in any circumstances. His technique was to take any thoughts that were bothering him and to imagine putting them in a filing cabinet drawer and closing that drawer. Try it. Lie down, close your eyes and try to clear your mind. When thoughts enter, imagine placing them in a drawer and filing them away. This should help you to clear your mind so you can sleep.
Replay your day. Worries about things you need to do often keep people from sleeping. Instead of dwelling on things you have not yet done, try focusing on what you have already accomplished in order to calm your mind. Lie still, relax and recall your day; it does not matter if you go from start to finish or in reverse order. Do not summarize or skip anything. The key is to recall as many details as possible.
For example: I woke up. Stretched in bed. Rolled out of bed. Went to the bathroom. Put toothpaste on my toothbrush. etc.
Just don’t stress out if you can’t remember any details. The goal here is not perfection. It’s a way to help you get your thoughts in order so you can relax.
Use visualization to help calm your mind. There is a long tradition, going back at least to the Greeks, of using mental images to stimulate sleep. To help you sleep, conjure an image of a place that you find restful and soothing, like a tropical beach or fern-covered forest floor. Or, try one of these tried and true mental exercises:
The ball of yarn – Imagine a tightly wound ball of yarn, which represents your tensions and worries. Now, imagine the ball slowly unwinding as it rolls across the floor. The strand of unfurled yarn grows as the ball slowly shrinks. Concentrate on breathing steadily as the ball slowly unwinds until the yarn lies stretched out, relaxed, like you.
The sleep dome – Imagine a dome-shaped barrier sitting over you, protecting you from the world and any tasks you need to accomplish. Focus on the texture, color, and shape of the barrier. Know that no worries can penetrate it. As other thoughts enter your mind, imagine them bouncing off the dome, unable to reach you.
The river of sleep – Imagine yourself floating like a leaf on a gentle stream. Let yourself be carried along, buoyed up by the warm water. Hear its gentle murmur. Feel its caressing you. Relax into it and let it carry you to sleep.
Try herbal remedies. Several herbs can help you deal with anxiety and fall asleep. You can usually find these herbs as teas, but you can also find extracts, caplets, and tinctures at most health food stores.
Valerian root. Valerian has been shown to be effective at battling anxiety and helping you sleep, although it can take a few weeks to take full effect.
Passionflower. Passionflower is generally milder than valerian. It can help you relax and fall asleep. It can interact with sedatives and some other medications, so talk to your doctor if you take other prescription medications.
Take a warm bath or shower. The warm water will relax you, while the time in the shower will also give your mind a chance to slow down and relax before you go to sleep.
Add a few drops of lavender oil to your bath. It will help you relax.
Roll your eyes to relax them. During the day, our eyes are constantly making small movements in order to scan our world and search for motion around us. Rolling your eyes relaxes them, helps them to remain still, and stimulates the production of melatonin – the hormone that regulates sleep. Roll your eyes in wide circles, four times in each direction, or until you feel relaxed. While this practice alone might not help you fall asleep immediately, it is a good technique to incorporate alongside the other methods listed below.
Stimulate your sleep pressure points. Acupressure – applying pressure with your thumb or fingers to specific spots on your body – can help to stimulate sleep. Try applying gentle pressure or massaging the following points until you feel relaxed and ready to sleep:
Behind your ear – There is a depression above your jaw, just behind and below your ear, and before your neck. Apply moderate pressure with your index and middle finger for up to 20 minutes, or until you are ready to sleep.
Your foot – Place two fingers horizontally across your foot at the place where your big toe and the next toe join your foot. Just above your fingers, up on the top of your foot, is a pressure point that can help relieve insomnia. Use your finger to apply deep, firm pressure for 4-5 seconds.
Your leg — Place four fingers horizontally on the inside of your calf just above your ankle bone. Apply firm, deep pressure just behind your leg bone (the tibia) for 4-5 seconds.
Try a little aromatherapy. Using some essential oils in a diffuser or placing a few drops on your pillow may help you sleep. Lavender is by far the most popular essential oil for relaxing and has been shown in clinical studies to help people sleep. There are a few others you can try too.
Chamomile. Chamomile oil may help reduce anxiety.
Sage. Sage oil can help relax and relieve stress.
Neroli. Neroli oil helps relieve anxiety and depression.
Rose. Rose oil can help relieve stress and anxiety and may make you feel more positive.
Relax your muscles one by one. Lie on your back and breathe slowly and steadily through your nose throughout the exercise. Starting with your feet, squeeze your toes tightly, then release. Next, curl your foot towards your knee and relax. Flex your calves and relax, then your thighs, buttocks, back, stomach, and chest. Squeeze your hands into fists, then relax. Curl your hands downward and relax. Flex and relax your arms, neck, and jaw. When you have finished tensing and relaxing all your muscles, you should be ready for sleep.
Try yoga breathing techniques to relax. Controlled breathing is key to the practice of yoga and has been shown to help people relax by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the automatic systems that help people rest.
Alternate Nostril Breathing – Sit with your legs crossed or lie in bed. Place your right ring finger and thumb on either side of your nose, touching but not squeezing. After a few deep breaths to prepare, close off the right nostril and breathe deeply through the left for a count of 4. As you finish breathing in, close off both nostrils. Hold for a count of 4, then open your right nostril and exhale for a count of 4. Repeat these cycles until you feel relaxed and ready to sleep.
Deep Throat Breathing – Do this exercise lying on your back. The key is to constrict your throat so as you breath through your nose, so that it feels as if you are breathing through a straw. This should also produce a noise, which has been described as similar to a baby snoring. Inhale for a count of 4, hold for 4, and breath out for a count of 4. Concentrate on relaxing, especially during the hold. Next inhale for 6, hold for 6, and breath out for a count of 6. Continue adding 2 counts until you reach your maximum capacity, then start subtracting 2 counts until you reach 4, at which point you should be relaxed and ready to sleep.
Humming – Close your eyes and relax. Breathe deeply through your nose, then gently out your mouth, humming as you breathe out. Concentrate on the way your chest vibrates. Do this for 6 breaths and lie quietly. Repeat if you are still restless.
Establish good sleeping habits. College students, in particular, tend to have chaotic sleep schedules. This can really come back to bite you the night before an exam. One of the best ways to ensure you fall asleep easily is to go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day. Establishing a schedule early can really help on exam day.
Don’t take naps. Naps confuse your body’s circadian rhythms and make it harder to sleep at night. Instead of napping, try going for a walk or exercising.
Make a schedule to study early. Research shows that cramming all your studying into a one day session is much less effective and results in lower exam scores. Your brain needs time and sleep to consolidate information. So as soon as you know your exam schedule, spend some time planning out when you will study. Scheduling 2 or 3 hours a day for a week before the exam is the most effective way to prepare.
Study at your desk or in the library, not in bed. You want your bed to be associated with one thing only: sleep. If you get in the habit of studying in bed, it will make it harder to sleep there.
Study at the right time. Try to do most of your studying between 6pm and 8pm, when your mind is most alert and when you are least likely to need stimulants like coffee or cigarettes that will make it harder to sleep later. Avoid studying in the early afternoon, when the mind is most sluggish.
Exercise. Because your mind is sluggish in the early afternoon, this is the perfect time to exercise or take a long walk. This will help you feel more alert when you return to studying, and by fatiguing your body, help you to sleep better that night.
Spending time outside in the late afternoon sunlight helps stimulate your body to release melatonin, which will help you sleep later.
Give yourself time to create the appropriate environment. Don’t try to go straight from studying to sleep. Instead, give yourself time to prepare yourself and your room. Don’t look at your computer, phone, or television for 45 minutes before bedtime. Make your room as dark as possible and keep it cool. If you cannot keep your room quiet, try introducing calming white noise.
Go to bed early and get up early. Rather than studying that extra hour at night, try going to sleep and waking up early to study. So instead of staying up until midnight, go to bed at 11pm and wake up at 7am. Your mind will be refreshed, and you will study more effectively.