Student perspective: Sleepless in Bristol…memory challenged!

Photo of Tracy, the author of the blog postby Tracy Ohis, Bristol Futures Advocate

I know we do not know each other very well but I have a personal question to ask… How well have you been sleeping lately?

This blog aims to help you consider the importance of sleeping as you approach the final hurdle of summer term examinations. Previously, some friends seem to hold a badge of honour for “pulling an all-nighter” of studying, encouraged by the wings of a famous drink or two that is highly caffeine loaded, enough to probably sink the titanic all over again. Yet there are many other reasons why people are not getting enough ZZ’s at night as COVID19 and somewhat beyond has taxed our general mental capacity. Even though we may have enjoyed the novelty of taking Zoom meetings with lecturers in PJs (not guilty!), this may have led to a complacent attitude when compared to the academic vibe surroundings of the university’s esteemed walls.

Lack of sleep vs Memory recall

As we continue to navigate the discovery channel of new information, our memory may find it problematic to retain at least half a day’s worth of study material before a test with a limited supply of sleep. The medical advice states to aim for 7-8 hours of sleep and I must admit this was a struggle at times even before starting my academic journey. The physical long-distance study amongst other things triggered a spiral that I needed to address and with some help from the university Wellbeing department and smarter planning of my time, I was able to develop a solution that has been useful most of the time to suit my needs. I hastily add that any plans you create will be unique to fit into your lifestyle and adjusted with some measure of flexibility. Ideally, accounting for unfortunate circumstances beyond our control forbiddingly other lockdowns per se ‘throws a spanner in the works’. If you would like to know more on how you can incorporate planning into your routine, you could meet with a tutor from Study Skills to discuss and even attend a workshop.

The experts say

Scientifically, a view taken that academic performance based on the early to rise approach resulted in higher achievers as opposed to the total hours of sleep and other factors (Eliasson 2010). Whilst another investigation of 61 undergraduates were focused on those from 2nd year and onwards, used a diary and mathematical science to conclude that irregular sleep patterns affected academic performance negatively (Phillips 2017). Indeed, a further point is that lack of sleep if left long term could potentially develop into insomnia and other health issues, so seeking help from your GP or nurse is a thought worth some consideration. A takeaway message is to remember you are not alone and it is good to have this conversation even with a friend, you might find that there are likeminded colleagues who will be keen to develop a community to support each other as mentors as suggested by this article (Cort-Blackson 2018).

Getting back on track

In identifying a problem exists and deciding that you want to make those baby steps towards changing behaviour is indeed a feat to be encouraged. Take time to view some YouTube videos or Google on how to improve your sleep could be a good investment of your academic performance. Some suggestions that could be helpful:

  • Turning your phone or other electronics off 2 hours before bed.
  • Making your bedroom space clutter free.
  • Doing some form of exercise (aerobic or yoga) during the day.

Which one of these will you try? Do let us know. All the best in your exams and I hope this blog has been useful to you.

Student perspective: Obliterating procrastination

Photo of Iskandar, the author of the postby Iskandar Bin Suhaimi, Bristol Futures Advocate

Every time I slip up and spend hours on YouTube or Tik Tok instead of studying, I would chide myself and promise to do better next time. Did I actually do better? Not quite.

As opposed to taking a well-deserved break at the end of the day, procrastination is not at all fun – it’s just easy. If you’re struggling with this issue as well, especially with distance learning, I have found that setting up structures to promote productivity greatly reduces the chance of procrastinating. Here’s what I found useful:

Pile of papers, with the top one headed 'To do list'
Photo: Breakingpic/ Pexels
  1. Set clear sub-goals when breaking down bigger tasks.

Most of us know that breaking down large tasks (i.e. preparing for a workshop, doing your final year research project, etc) into smaller, more manageable subtasks will make it much easier. Not only does it make the work less daunting, but the endorphins you get when finishing a subtask can motivate you to continue working.

While this will likely make your work less unpleasant and therefore reduce the chance that you’d just give up entirely and binge-watch The Crown, I would encourage you to take it a step further and set goals for your subtasks. Having clear goals have been proven to lead to better outcomes (Locke et al 1981) and having subgoals was proven in a study by Bandura and Simon (1977) to increase the quality of the intended result.

So hopefully when you try this and find that your work is less intimidating and you’re actually obtaining clear results, you’d be less likely to procrastinate and enjoy studying more!

Student looking at phone
Source: Andrea Picquadio/ Pexels
  1. Obliterate distractions

Distractions disrupt your focus and can easily lead you off course, so obliterating -because eliminate is too timid a word for such a serious assault on your productivity – distractions should be a priority.

Phones

Android users have the Focus Mode (DownTime for iPhone users) which allows you to customise which apps can operate. This instantly blocks out notifications from apps that distract your attention, although I would suggest muting your phone as well. To reinforce this barrier against using my phone, I also use the Forest app to plant a tree for however long I want to focus. This prevents me from using my phone while the tree grows, lest I want to be a monster and kill the little thing.

Chores

If you’re like me, the various tasks you juggle daily would gnaw at the periphery of your thoughts and prevent you from staying focused. To prevent this, if you have work for later, write them down in your planner (or anywhere) so you can keep them off your mind with the reassurance that you won’t forget them.

Notebook and computer on desk, arm pointing at computer screen
Source: Julia M Cameron/ Pexels
  1. Organise your study space

Personally, I like my window-facing study table, complete with a hanging string of pearls plant and fairy lights. But according to feng shui principles, the best study table position is when:

  • Your back is facing the wall
  • The door is in your line of sight
  • If you have a window, have it at your side rather than facing it

Other things to consider include what material and colour your study table is, and the presence of plants to affect the aura. All these components aim to address your subconscious mind and help you to focus better.

You should also start cleaning your desk. Chae & Zhu (2014) found that a disorderly environment led to a range of self-regulatory failures which for our purposes, means reduced ability to focus and less effective studying. Remove anything that is unnecessary on your study table and keep it neat to ensure your mind is not distracted by untidiness, but rather stays focused on that essay that is due tomorrow.

Four students sitting around a table with books and papers
Source: Cottonbro/ Pexels
  1. Set up study sessions with friends

The lack of scheduled hours in our current blended learning can blur our concept of time, meaning long hours of work without proper cut-off points for rest and recharge. It is all too easy to let the days flow into each other and eventually burn out.

Setting up a scheduled study session with your friend(s) can help provide a bit of a structure to your day. It gives you a small sense of accountability for showing up to the session, and you can help each other stay focused. It has definitely worked for me.

Alternatively, you can join Study Skills’ interactive Online Study Lounge. You can sign up here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/online-study-lounge-tickets-120527943323

 

Hopefully I’ve introduced you to some new things to try! I would love to hear what you think about these structures, and whether you personally have other ways of preventing procrastination. Goodluck!

Student perspective: Staying motivated in the lead up to and during Winter Break

Photo of Tiegan, author of this blog postby Tiegan Bingham-Roberts, Y3 BA English student & Bristol Futures Advocate

There are only three weeks left of TB1… congratulations on making it this far! I for one am certainly looking forward to a break, especially to spend some time doing activities that do not involve staring into the abyss of my laptop screen all day every day. I might do some baking, go for some walks in the countryside of my hometown (weather dependent of course, which does is not a great dependent if you live in the UK like me), read some books that are completely unrelated to my English degree, and catch up on the extra hours of sleep that ran away from me this term. I hope you are also planning on doing some relaxing activities, whatever they may be for you.

Before you can do those activities, though, you must get past the finish line. Especially with the recent updates that all teaching is going to be moved online gradually from the 3rd December, you might be feeling worried about how to stay motivated. If you are staying on-campus, the lack of in-person teaching may impact your motivation because you feel as though you are being held less accountable for how much work you put into your studies. If you really enjoyed the in-person teaching, you might be worried about being less engaged with your learning materials. In general, you may be feeling unmotivated purely for the fact that you are tired of 2020 and all the changes it continues to bring to our lives. If you are returning to your non-term time address, if you have one, you might struggle to stay motivated because you are no longer surrounded by other students and so it feels as if the Winter Break has started early, even though it has not.

However, and this is a big however, it is hard to escape from the reality that Winter Break is not truly a ‘break’, because unfortunately we cannot switch off our student status as soon as we leave the classroom. I know that every student, no matter what course they are studying or what year group they are in, will have tasks to complete over the Winter Break – whether that be essays, reports, research, exam revision, reading, proposals, job applications, internship applications, volunteering, part-time jobs, the list goes on and on…

Alongside these tasks, comes the big distraction of Winter Holiday Celebrations. During the final few weeks of term and in the month and a half that follows, you might be participating in one of the many festivals happening across the globe, perhaps in a different capacity this year due to coronavirus restrictions. Between the tasks you have been set to complete over the Winter Break, and the festivities of the season, it is understandable why many students get sucked into the intoxicating fun of it all only to soberly panic as our deadlines or exams quickly approach before our TB2 timetables start.

Here are some things you can do to stay motivated amidst all the chaos, excitement, and relaxation:

· Remind yourself of what you have achieved so far in such strange circumstances of a global pandemic, why you are here at University, and why you want to do well. Sometimes it is easy to forget how far you have come as you get wrapped up in deadlines and what can feel like aimless days of staring at your screen, but there is a point to all of it – to get your degree from a top University. This is very cliché, but the phrase ‘it will all be worth it in the end’ is apt here.

· Make sure your goals are realistic. Whether these are daily or weekly goals, have them noted down somewhere such as on a physical or virtual notepad or calendar. Make sure they do not completely fill your time, as often unexpected things come up or things may take longer to complete than you initially realised. Allowing flexibility means that you will be much more likely to achieve the goal by the end of the day or week. I get so much satisfaction from being able to tick things off my to do list and go to sleep each night knowing that I can truly relax and watch a bit of Netflix without feeling guilty for it.

· Create a study space. This is going to be easier for some students than others depending on your living situation, and my advice here is to work with what you have got to the best of your ability; try to get creative. It might be that you clear one area of the room you are staying in to be a blank canvas so that you are able to focus, it might mean stacking up a pile of academic books in your space to serve as a reminder that you are still a student!

· Check in with your peers on your course or other students you know who are studying different subjects – ask them how they are doing, what work they have managed to do, discuss deadlines, peer review each other’s work. I find that having somebody to hold you accountable for what you have been up to can be a great motivator, and even having a small conversation about University life can help to jog your memory and get you back into the right mindset of being a driven and determined student.

· Book onto one of the Bristol Study Skills Online Study Lounges. These are a fantastic way to study with and meet other students whilst studying remotely.

· Check out the Bristol Study Skills resource online about Studying From Home, which breaks down different ways of studying remotely which is what we will all be doing from between 3rd-9th December onwards until the end of January (if in-person teaching resumes of course).

I hope the rest of term goes well for you and that you have found this post useful for thinking about motivation over the Winter Break. What activities are you most looking forward to during your rest days?