10 Exam Sleep Tips

Posted by Bensons for Beds on 1st Jan 2020

10 Exam Sleep Tips

If it’s exam time for you, then you’ll know a thing or two about feeling stressed! During this time, you may well feel a little short tempered, tired and frankly unable to think about much else other than your revision.

One thing that can really help to keep stress levels low and make for exam success is getting a great night’s sleep. Getting enough sleep before taking GCSEs, A Levels or university exams is vital to ensure that your mind is active, and your brain is working well.

In this article, we explore some top tips to ensure that sleep doesn’t fall by the wayside during exam time. With just a few tweaks to your revision schedule, these useful tips could help you get that much-needed rest when you really need it most.

1. Avoid last minute cramming

Pulling an all nighter the night before a big exam might seem like a good idea but try to step away from the coffee!

Things that are learned last minute often don’t stay in your head and there’s a reason for that. During sleep, memory consolidation takes place, which helps you to retain new information that you’ve learnt. [1] If you stay up all night, you’ll miss this vital stage.

This means that you’ll be struggling to recall any information you’ve learned last minute when the exam paper is in front of you.

So leave the all-nighters for the next time you go clubbing!

2. Avoid blue light before bed

It’s tempting to scroll through your social media channels during your down time, after a tough day of revision. But did you know that the blue light that’s emitted through mobile phones, tablets and even the television can suppress the release of the sleeping hormone melatonin?

This can lead to trouble getting to sleep and disturbed sleep during the night. [2]

Beat exam insomnia by switching off any devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime. If you can, remove them from the room too so you’re not tempted to scroll if you wake up during the night.

3. Wind down before bedtime

If you jump straight into bed once you’ve finished revising, you might find that your brain won’t switch off.

You might find yourself lying there reeling off pi to 10 places or going over Shakespeare quotes rather than getting some much needed shut eye.

Tell your brain it’s time to wind down and forget about your work (just for now!) by listening to relaxing music, reading a couple of chapters of your book or taking a warm bath. Light  some scented candles to help set the mood for sleep.

4. Don’t fight your worries

It’s normal to feel anxious about exams. After all, it’s a stressful situation and there’s often a lot riding on them, such as university places for example. Stress isn’t always bad for you either. Often it can work to motivate you, helping you to overcome challenges. [3]

Trying to battle against your worries will only make them worse so try to respond to them in a healthy, positive way. Welcome your thoughts or worries as they arrive and acknowledge them by saying them out loud.

Once you’ve said them, then consciously let them go. Imagine writing them down on a piece of paper, folding them up and then throwing them away. You could even keep a notebook by your bed and physically write down all your worries if you’d prefer.

This will help to keep you from tossing and turning with worry all night. If you are feeling stressed out, check out Louise Pentand’s top tips for looking after your mental health.

5. Stay in bed

If you wake up during the night, try to resist the urge to get up and start revising. Getting up will tire you out for the next day, making revision more difficult. It might also mean you get into a pattern of waking up at the same time each night.

If you can, do your revision somewhere other than your bedroom. You’re less likely to get up and wander through the house to your books if they’re in the living room or a home office, rather than your bedroom.

Stay in bed and save your valuable energy for the next day. Keeping a routine of going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time each day will help you to get better sleep. [4]

To help you get back to sleep, try some mindfulness and meditation. If you’re new to this, start off by trying to clear your mind by focussing on your body instead. Turn your attention to each part of your body, seeing if there is any tension there and trying to relax it.

If your mind wanders, bring your focus back to your body. If you think self-guided meditation might be a bit too much for you, there are plenty of apps available which can help you.

6. Don’t skip exercise

Black man sat on outdoor steps having a drink whilst taking an exercise break

It can be tempting to think that you haven’t got time for anything else on revision days and exercise is usually the first thing to get scrapped from our to-do lists. However, exercise is so good for you and can provide some active time out in between cue cards and colour codes.

Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes each day in the run-up to an exam. Research shows that regular exercise can help you to sleep better at night time. [5] It can help to improve both the depth and quality of the sleep you’re getting.

Exercise also helps to release endorphins which can help to lift your mood and ease those worries – something which is definitely needed at this time.

Find something that you love to do so that it doesn’t feel like a chore. This could be running, HIIT workouts, yoga or even just putting on your trainers and going for a walk.

However, be sure to limit your exercise to the morning or early afternoon and avoid exercising within two hours of bedtime. This is because the endorphins that exercise helps to release can make it more difficult for you to get to sleep.

7. Take regular breaks

Don’t underestimate the importance of taking a regular break from your revision. It’s tempting to power through, thinking that the more that you get done the better.

Getting your head down for long periods of time might seem like a good idea but overdoing it during the day can stop your brain from switching off at the end of the day.

Schedule a short five- or 10-minute break every hour to step away from your screen and do something completely different. Try listening to music, eating a snack, or going for a short walk.

Doing these activities, rather than being stuck in your books, helps to give you some head space. You’ll find that your productivity is boosted once you go back to your revision.

This will also help you to switch off at night and get the rest that you need.

8. Avoid midnight snacks

As well as sleep, your diet is important when it comes to your overall health and wellbeing, especially during exam time.

Try to avoid eating a big meal too close to bedtime as this can change your internal body clock and keep you awake longer. You also shouldn’t go to bed feeling hungry as these hunger pangs can stop you from getting to sleep – not to mention how hangry you’ll feel!

Eat your main meal before 7pm and, if you’re still hungry later on, have a small snack. Dried fruits, nuts, and popcorn can all be good options. [6]

Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day too. Research has linked staying hydrated to a whole host of benefits for our brains including better concentration, enhanced short term memory, improved focus, and faster decision making. [7]

The NHS recommends drinking around six to eight glasses of water each day. Just remember to go to the toilet before bed or you’ll be back up in the middle of the night! [8]

9. Make enough time for sleep

Often, we can end up going to bed too late and not leaving ourselves enough time to get a good night’s sleep. Most adults need between seven and nine hours sleep each night. [9]

Count backwards from the time you need to get up to determine your bedtime and don’t forget to leave some time before this for your bedtime routine. We often forget to factor in time for brushing our teeth and our skincare routines.

10. Don’t worry about one night of bad sleep

Ever had that thing where you lie awake worrying that you need to get more sleep and then that makes it harder to get to sleep? Well, this is a vicious cycle which will have you tossing and turning all night long.

You can’t force yourself to sleep, so worrying about it won’t help. Although you might need more coffee than usual the next day, one night of bad sleep won’t hurt so try to free your mind of the worry you’re feeling about sleeping.

You’ve got enough to think about without sleep coming into it as well!


[1] https://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matt...

[2] https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bedroom-environme...

[3] https://www.summahealth.org/flourish/entries/2021...

[4] https://www.verywellhealth.com/30-days-to-better-...

[5] https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-a...

[6] https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/articles/23_healthy_sn...

[7] https://www.buxtonwater.co.uk/articles/health-and...

[8] https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/food-guidel...

[9] https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/sleep-requi...