I’m sitting here at 2:11am with 1,000 thoughts floating through my brain, with the ‘off switch’ nowhere in sight. It’s mind-blowing to me that after three hours of thinking of nothing, slow breathing, and even counting sheep, that I’m still perched up in bed wide-awake.

So, I thought now would be an ideal time to write about this little relationship, fling, or whatever you want to call it, between what you eat and how much you sleep.

‌I know that for many of you, the only way to get through the countless assignments and essays university throws at us, is by sacrificing our beloved sleep for endless amounts of coffee, Red Bull, and tubs (yes, tubs) of Nutella and chocolate. So. Much. Chocolate.

So much so, that by the time you finish that assignment in the early hours of the morning, your brain is wired by the effects of these survival snacks, making falling asleep harder than the assignments themselves! But why is this? Who, or what, is to blame for our sleep deprivation?‌‌

There are a few culprits that we can thank

Drumroll please...

1. Caffeine (commonly known as a student’s “One True Love”)

2. High-sugar and high-fat study snacks or “junk food” (commonly justified as “I Deserve This” snacking) and;

3. Eating items1 and 2 in the early hours of the morning (commonly associated with “Teacher X Is The Devil – Give Me The Goddamn Chocolate”

These three things have the potential to negatively impact the ‘if’, ‘how’ and ‘when’ of your sleep cycle, a.k.a your circadian rhythm. This is our body’s ‘internal clock’, which is constantly regulating our feelings of alertness and sleepiness on a 24-hour cycle.

Put simply, when you’re eating your bag of Maltesers at 11:30pm and washing it down with coffee, you’re meddling with your body’s natural sleep cycle, therefore making it virtually impossible to get to SLEEP! Oh and to make things even worse? Studies are showing that when you don’t have enough sleep, you’re actually more likely to eat those high sugar/high fat foods. Ironic, right?

 In simpler terms. Eating junk food = no sleep. No sleep = eating junk food *facepalm*

I know what you guys are thinking, university is literally trying to kill us. But neverfear – I feel like I’ve found the solution. We just need to be a little more savvy with what we’re eating (and when we’re eating it).

Here are my tips to successfully finishing an assignment (and getting to sleep afterwards):

1. Avoid coffee and energy drinks after 4pm

I know, I know, this is a hard one for me too… but the stimulating effects of coffee can last for up to 6 hours, which can cause problems getting to sleep later on. 

Swap it for: Herbal teas, such as peppermint tea, chamomile tea (keep this one for when you are almost ready for bed), ginger tea. Or, if you really can’t convert to tea, try decaf coffee instead.

2. Keep choccy out of reach after lunch

Unfortunately, the same goes with choccy (sad face). Chocolate is high in sugar and also caffeine – so it is best to avoid consuming too much during the day and especially at night. 

Swap it for: A snack of your favourite fruit instead, such as blueberries, strawberries, an apple or a banana. Or, if you really feel like some choccy, opt for dark chocolate as it is naturally loaded with magnesium, which may help you relax before going to bed.

3. Steer clear of junk food  

Junk food in general isn’t the best for our health, but it is also associated with disruptive sleeping patterns. Yes, really! 

Swap it for: Foods that are high in melatonin (the sleep hormone) – such as milk, yoghurt, nuts, seeds and fruits.

Most importantly

Take care of yourself first, and that assignment second! Remember, an assignment is just that, an assignment. When you’re feeling tired at 12:00am, instead of reaching for a Red Bull, let yourself go to sleep and wake up early the next day. Not only will you get some much-needed sleep, but you won’t be stress-eating throughout the night – which means you’ll wake up with a fresh brain, ready to smash out that assignment.

Hot tip

My current go-to library set-up is a punnet of blueberries, a tub of yoghurt and a bag of Maltesers (I’m still working on my chocolate addiction). I happily enjoy my strong flat white coffee at lunch, and then convert to my beloved herbal teas before heading home to sip on a  chamomile tea before hitting the hay. Still pretty delicious, if you ask me.

Further support

Let me know what your go-to study snacks are, and whether you’ve found the perfect combo between surviving university and still getting some sleep! Email your survival kits to healthpromotion@swin.edu.au.

Written by Sophie Taylor, Master of Dietetics student, in collaboration with Robyn Delbridge, Dietitian (AdvAPD) and Lecturer, Master of Dietetics, Swinburne.

Did you know?

Swinburne offers on-site health services and fully confidential counselling to students at all campuses. To book a session with our Hawthorn on-campus dietitian, simply call +61 3 9214 8483 or register and make an appointment