We’ve all been there. You’re trying to study but your eyelids are drooping and your brain feels fuzzy. You feel like you’ve had a long year not just a long day. This post will give you 7 ways to study when you’re tired.
Tips to wake yourself up, work out when you feel most awake, recognise when you’re exhausted and get more done even with lots of breaks.
Feeling tired doesn’t have to signal the end of productivity. You can still study when you’re tired and do great work.
1. Tired or exhausted? Critical or non-critical study?
First, which situation are you in right now?
1. You want to study but the world won’t end if you don’t tonight.
2. You really really have to study i.e. an essay is due in the next few days
Next, you need to work out whether you’re feeling tired and a bit sleepy, or whether you are exhausted and at risk of burnout.
If your studying isn’t critical and you’re falling asleep in your books, your time is not being used wisely. There’s no point reading the same paragraph over and over. So make a decision. Either step away from your desk and try and wake yourself up, or rest now so you can come back to studying refreshed later or tomorrow. Getting a good night’s sleep, or just having an evening relaxing, can almost turn you into a new person. Just make sure you’re not using feeling tired as an excuse not to study!
So, what if your studying is critical? If you’ve got an essay due and you HAVE to study – read on for tips on how to study when tired. But if you’re feeling exhausted and have barely slept trying to complete the essay, perhaps it’s time to ask for an extension? Your university may have different policies on extensions but, if you’re really struggling, talk to your tutor. If an extra day or two would allow you to sleep and then finish the essay to a higher standard, it’s worth asking.
2. Change your study time to fit your energy rhythm
You can probably tell me straight away whether you’re an early riser or a night owl.
Are you the most productive in the morning or do you get a second wind in the evening? Would you rather stay up late to finish your essay or go to bed and wake up early to work on it?
I am DEFINITELY a night owl. My brain doesn’t seem to function for the first few hours of the morning. I can feel sleepy all day but as soon as I get home I perk up and could work late into the evening.
If you’re regularly tired while studying – look at adapting your study schedule to fit your own energy rhythm.
Could you go to bed earlier so you can fit in an hour or two of studying first thing? Could you get to work early (and beat the traffic) and study at your desk for an hour before you start? If you get tired late in the evening could you study for half an hour as soon as you get in from work? Can you switch your tasks up? Do household chores + cooking when you’re more tired.
The key here is to try and study during your most productive hours. With work and family responsibilities it may be hard to rearrange your schedule a lot. While all my tips might not work for you, some of them will if you let them. So try and find any areas you can be flexible in to make the most of your most energised hours.
3. Do the easy things
When we’re tired, our brain finds it more difficult to complete tasks with a high cognitive load – i.e. that use a lot of brain power. That’s why you struggle to understand a concept when you’re sleep deprived and why your mind goes blank when you’re trying to write an essay on not much sleep.
If you’re too tired to take notes or write your essay, what tasks can you do with a lower cognitive load that will still move you forward?
You could spend some time doing household chores or errands that will free up more time for studying tomorrow.
Or, try setting up the document for your next essay or email your tutor with some questions about the topic or approach.
You could file your notes, tidy your desk or work out your priorities for the week. Are there any videos you can watch or online activities to completes? Check out my post for some ideas on lighter tasks you can complete to help you study when you’re tired.
4. Wake yourself up
If you’re falling asleep but you really need to continue studying, here’s some ways to wake yourself up:
· Have a shower
· Drink a pint of water
· Have a cup of tea/coffee
· Get some fresh air
· Do 5 minutes of house work
· Put some loud music on and dance it out or sing loudly
5. Study with lots of breaks
If you’re really struggling but you’ve got to get some work done, then study but with plenty of breaks in between.
I normally suggest the Pomodoro technique of working with complete focus for 25 minutes and then taking a 5 minute break. But if you’re tired or not feeling well, change this ratio up.
Try studying for 30 minutes then having a break for 15. Or study for 60 minutes then take a 30 minute break. It may not seem like you’ll get much done with that many breaks but this is much better than not doing anything today because you don’t feel great.
Use your breaks to get some fresh air, cook some great food, call a friend, have a bath or watch your favourite show.
And, if you make sure you study with no distractions, you’ll be surprised what you can achieve in these short sprints. Check out this post for lots of ways to overcome procrastination and increase productivity. You need a clear desk, all your materials ready and minimal distractions.
6. Are you getting enough sleep?
While you can try and push through your all nighters, sometimes you need to tackle the underlying problem.
This is something I’m still working on. Because I’m a night owl, I often go to bed late because I don’t feel tired. But after a few days I’m exhausted. There will be times before an essay is due or before an exam where late nights are necessary – especially if you’re working. During these times sleep definitely becomes the easiest way to make more hours in the day. But we all know getting a good amount of sleep can make us feel great and perform better.
If you're not getting enough sleep, one answer could be the foods you are eating.
We all like to study with snacks, but there are some smart choices you can make during those before-bed study sessions. Click here to read a blog post by Health Ambition which shares nine foods that studies have shown improve your sleep and help you nod off quicker. There's some top tips for night time eating in there too.
Also, I’m currently reading Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson. His book highlights many tips you can use to sleep smarter, even if you can’t sleep longer. So try out some of these tips.
Make your room darker
Even a tiny amount of artificial light can disrupt your sleep patterns so invest in black out curtains and don’t keep electronics in your room with flashing lights.
No backlit screens 60 minutes before bed
Now this is the most difficult as a lot of us use our laptops, tablets and smart phones to study (and televisions to relax). But it’s worth trying, even if you can just manage 30 minutes at first. Or there’s some workarounds which could help. There are apps for your devices to reduce and block the blue light which disrupts sleep patterns. I use the free computer app ‘f.lux’.
Cut the caffeine
Definitely in the evening and some people swear by not having any after early/mid afternoon. The half life of caffeine is 5-6 hours so half the amount is still in your system after 6 hours. Try setting a caffeine curfew and see if it makes a difference.
Try not to interrupt the standard sleep cycle
Our normal sleep cycles last about 1.5 hours. Do you ever wake up before your alarm and feel quite awake? You go back to sleep then when your alarm goes off 30 minutes later you feel tired and so groggy. Try to set your alarm to work with your sleep cycle. So try for 7.5 hours or if you’re tired try and fit in 9 hours. I’m trying to break out of my relationship with the snooze button because it’s just making me feel worse!
Try to get some natural light during the day
Try and go for a walk at lunchtime or step outside mid-morning for a quick break. Natural daylight helps ensure the right hormones are released throughout the day which could help you sleep later.
7. Are you doing too much?
If you constantly feel tired and rushed off your feet – perhaps you need to look at your schedule and see what can change.
It’s normal to feel like you want it all: studying, work, family, a social life, fitness, healthy eating, hobbies…etc. But you should not feel guilty if you can’t maintain them all at once. While I’m a believer you can make time for the important things in life, there are only 24 hours a day and a 1/3 of them you should be asleep.
To avoid burnout, it’s important to work out your priorities so you can spend your time on those. Look at your calendar and see what you could remove so you will feel less tired.
However exciting a new hobby is, it may not be the time for something new. Could you reel your social life in a little? Rather than going for nights out or day trips with friends could you switch some of those for quick dinners or catch ups over coffee? Could you find a fitness regime that takes less time e.g. 30 minute interval sessions rather than hour long runs or classes? Have an honest look at your schedule and work out what you could remove (even temporarily) to allow you to focus more on what’s important to you.
It’s so difficult studying with other commitments and there will always be times when you feel tired. But these tips can help you work out whether you’re exhausted, need to wake up, or whether you need to make some changes.