My Sleep Button

ok I couldn’t resist reviewing a sleep related phone application. Most of the ones I came across were around sleep hygeine and sleep-wake cycles. Mysleepbutton isn’t like the others. It is a sleep tool which uses visual imagery to help keep your mind off the things worrying you and allow you to drift off into sleep. The App description reads like this:

All you need to do is:

  • press the “Put Me to Sleep” button, and
  • imagine the diverse things mentioned by the app.

This will keep your mind off your concerns and into a state that is wonderfully conducive to sleep…

It’s that simple.

Was it that simple – yes! I can honestly say that I wasn’t awake when it stopped. I tried the drawing objects pack but you can chose the simple things or the scenes pack to trial as well. The different packs are available in either human voice or synthetic voices and a mix of female or male voices.

So whats the catch? The app is available for trial but the trial does expire and after that you will have to purchase the packs. If it works for you then the $6.49 investment for a pack will be well worth it.

What’s so good about it: It’s a great distraction tool and it gives you multiple types of visual imagery to trial – not every type will work for every person – this way you get to try before you buy.

What’s not so good: The trial will expire and you will have to pay for it eventually.


Best Sleep Apps

Rather than download a few of the sleep apps and give you a review of just one app I’ve found a phone app search engine with 25 of the top sleep hygiene apps. Quite a few are paid apps although reasonable costs for most of them. There are a few free ones that look of to me although they are a little more limited in there function. Some of the app’s help you measure the different sleep cycles during your sleep time whereas others look at finding patterns to your sleep and what fosters a good nights sleep and what triggers a restless night. There also appears to be a few with some tips on how to relax yourself into sleep.  I’m keen to hear back from you all in the comments to see what you think works best for you? What apps are the good ones? What ones are complete duds?

If you haven’t already read my post on Sleep Hygiene then you might want to check that out before you try any of the apps so you can see what apps might suit which tip!

 

 

 

 


Sleep….did someone mention sleep?

This past week sleep has become the main focus of my work with students. Stress and Sleep. Often both of them are the issue. Usually one is feeding the other or they have a symbiotic relationship. For some the problem is I’m sleeping to much – I nap during the day, I’m sleeping longer at night but I still don’t feel rested. Or I’m having trouble getting to sleep? Waking frequently throughout the night. It doesn’t matter which of these is true it all has the same impact – I’m falling behind in my work and I am struggling to prepare for exams because I’m tired.

So I’ve put together a few tips on how to improve your basic sleep hygiene.

  1. Avoid napping during the day as it disturbs the normal patterns of sleep and wake cycles.
  2. Avoid stimulants like caffeine, nicotine and alcohol too close to bedtime.
  3. Exercise vigorously during the day but try a restful light exercise like yoga closer to bedtime to promote good sleep.
  4. Stay away from large meals before bedtime.
  5. Make sure you get adequate exposure to light during the day  as exposure helps maintain the sleep-wake cycle.
  6. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine – brush teeth, put pj’s on. Avoid TV or using your phone as the screens will stimulate your brain rather than wind down for rest.
  7. Don’t use your bed for study, watching TV etc or you won’t associate it with sleep.

I’m not saying this will work for you all, or that it’s the only way of approaching it but I thought it might be a good place to start.


Burnout….and not the kind you do in a car.

There comes a time in every students life that they start to feel burnout. For some it happens early on, others in the later stages when they are nearing completion of there degree. Some will feel it as a direct result of their studies and others will feel it as a reaction to a combination of competing demands in their life. How and when you feel it isn’t the important factor. Whats important is that you recognise it as burnout and take some steps to change before you find yourself feeling less and less motivated, withdrawing from friends and experiencing some of the early signs of depression.

So how do you know if you have burnout? Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Am I exhausted?
  2. Do I find it difficult to find the energy to study?
  3. Am I getting increasingly frustrated and cynical about my study?
  4. Am I having memory difficulties, find it difficult to concentrate or unable to see another perspective?
  5. Are my grades slipping?
  6. Am I having problems in my relationships at uni?
  7. am I still satisfied with my choice of degree?

 

If you have answered yes to a few of these it could be a case of burnout. I know what you are all saying – Yes I have all of those! I have a heap of assessment work due and exam time is looming – of course I have burn out. And the closer we get to the end of the semester the more you will isolate yourself, withdraw from social functions, have difficulty sleeping and concentrating. This is all to be expected. So here are a few things that might help you with these.

  1. Take relaxation seriously and make sure you are getting regular study breaks – don’t just push through take 5 -10 minutes to do a relaxation exercise.
  2.  Don’t narrow yourself to study only – make sure you are still socialising with friends and family and engaging in physical activity.
  3. Unplug the distraction of electronic communication devices – take a break from Facebook, check e-mail once a day not 20, and turn off your phone.
  4. Get some sleep (This might be a topic I will explore more with you all later in the week).
  5. Get organised and make some study plans
  6. Pay attention to your body – eat and exercise regularly and get some sleep, did I mention sleep already?

 

There you have it the magic recipe for getting through the next few weeks, and if that doesn’t work but you survive the exams anyway remember that you get a month holiday after them!


Wellness App

WellKom is a Wellness app that asks you to answer a few questions on your food, drink, sleep and exercise activities. From there is makes some recommendations for an Action Plan that you can work towards to maximise your well being. It sets the action plan over 15 days and every day it sends you reminders for the actions remaining on your plan. For example this morning I was reminded to start the day with a healthy breakfast and this afternoon I was reminded to get out into the sunshine for 15 minutes. As you fulfill your actions on the plan the wellness level on your avatar increases. The colour of the meter changes as you get closer to your goal. The avatar page also reminds you how many actions you have pending and how many days to go on this current plan.

It’s a pretty simple app really and whilst it inst comprehensive it also isn’t asking you to set ridiculous goals like abstain completely from alcohol. Or stop eating ice-cream and chocolate altogether. What it does do is send you reminders to look after the different aspect of wellness, which lets face it when it’s exam and assessment time these are the first parts of our routine which fall apart.

What”s good about it: It’s simple and quick to use and the reminders are reasonable.

What’s not so good about it: It neglects the non-physical requirements of wellness. A few modifications and the app could include reminders to do short breathing exercises or mindfulness activities, or positive affirmations to challenge any negative self talk.


Linking Physical and Mental Health

If you feel well physically you often experience better mental health. You will feel more positive about yourself and your ability to take care of yourself. You often find it easier to sleep, eat healthier and spend time doing things that you enjoy. When you are ill or injured then these basic needs are harder to achieve and then they impact on your mental health as well. For example when you injure yourself you often have pain, difficulty sleeping, restrictions on your activity and movement all of which usually result in a change in how you think, act and feel about yourself. There are many hours of research looking at the relationship between the two and it appears that it’s a two way relationship of causality. Enough of the research though because you guys get enough of that in lectures and tutorials.

There are a few common factors which can help maintain both your physical and mental health:

1. Physical Activity – engage in at least 30 minutes of Physical activity 3 times per week. You can do this all in one session or split it up over the course of the day. If you think about how much walking you do between lectures on campus you are probably already half way if not completely meeting this goal already.

2. Healthy Eating – yes I know what you are thinking “but that ice-cream tastes so good”. Try and stick to regular eating across the day rather than long periods without food and then big binges. Get a balanced meal and make sure there are plenty of fruit and vegetables in your diet. Remember that restricting can be just as dangerous for your health as overeating or eating the wrong foods.

3. Socialising – spend time with friends and family doing things you enjoy. It’s not a good idea to shut friends and family out because you feel all your time should be spent studying. You will get better results if you balance your social commitments with your study load. If you ignore one for the other then your mental health and physical health both suffer and you don’t end up with the results you wanted.

4. Social Support – remember to lean on and ask your friends and family for help. Reach out a little further if you want to get some help from counsellors or other professionals who can help you. This could be as simple as asking a friend for lecture notes from a lecture you missed or getting someone to pick up a book from a library for you.

5. Budgeting – there is never enough money as a student to do the things we want to do. Get some help earlier on to develop a budget that suits your income and try and stick to that. Worrying about money is a large contributor to stress and stress impacts negatively on both your mental and physical health.

These are not the only things you can do to maintain good physical and mental health but they are a good start. If you want more information about the links or want to ask some questions about it then feel free to contact me via email or use the drop-in skype sessions available on Tuesday, Thursdays and Fridays.


Is it depression?

Earlier in the week I wrote about identifying the signs and symptoms of depression. There is a difference of course between having a couple of the symptoms and being depressed. Time is an important factor in figuring out if this fits for you. Are these symptoms new or have they been around for a while? There is a 10 question distress scale called the K10 which can help you identify if your behaviour, thoughts and feelings are something of concern. The K10 can be completed online and it is available through BeyondBlue. It takes about 5 minutes to complete and your responses are calculated immediately and you get feedback on your score, the range of severity for symptoms and some suggestions for how to seek help if you need to.

BeyondBlue also have a range of other resources available for you in terms of education about depression and it’s treatment and other mental health issues. They have some useful links to other resources including relaxation exercises and forums so you can connect with other people with similar experiences. Why not head over to the website and check them out?

What’s good about it: It’s quick, easy to use and you get immediate feedback and suggestions for what to do next.

What’s not so good about it: It’s a great snapshot for you but you will need help from a professional to tailor what strategies will help with your specific symptoms.


Not feeling yourself…..

I don’t know about you but at this time of the year I find it a little harder to be happy than in the summer. Maybe it’s the warm weather or the sun that makes me smile, or the fact that when I was a student the warm weather signaled the end of the year and the larger break period between semesters. Winter however brings on the cold weather and it also reminds me of the rush of assignments. The feedback on those assignments and the lower grades than I had hoped for. Regardless of why sometimes I felt like I wasn’t myself and maybe you also notice you’re not your usual happy self. It’s OK to feel down at times and to slink into the corner and lick your wounds whilst recovering. After that period is over (a few days at most) it’s time to get back up, reward yourself with something nice and get back on the bike so to speak. If you find you can’t seem to manage that it might be time to ask for some help with it.

Maybe you have noticed that you are withdrawing from friends and family, feeling irritable or guilty, thinking that you can’t do anything right or you might be having difficulty sleeping or sleeping to much. These are all signs to watch for depression. I have put together a little list of things to watch out for below.

  • not going out anymore
  • not getting things done at work/school
  • withdrawing from close family and friends
  • relying on alcohol and sedatives
  • not doing usual enjoyable activities
  • unable to concentrate
  • Feeling overwhelmed, guilty, frustrated, unhappy, indecisive or sad
  • Negative self thoughts like : ‘I’m a failure.’, ‘It’s my fault.’ or  ‘I’m worthless.’
  • tired all the time
  • sick, headaches, sore muscles
  • stomach upset
  • sleep problems
  • change of appetite and weight changes

If you have noticed any of these it could be time to ask for some help. You can discuss this with your GP or make an appointment with one of the counsellors on campus, or if you prefer jump online using the Skype Drop-in hours and chat with the online counsellor about what you can do.


The material or views expressed on this Blog are those of the author and do not represent those of the University.  Please report any offensive or improper use of this Blog to RPS@newcastle.edu.au.
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