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Thinking About Trading Sleep for Study? Think Again


Our brains need sleep to function. Read more about how to get the most out of your mind this exam season.

The holiday season may be fast approaching, but many won’t officially be in holiday-mode for another few weeks. Instead, they’ll be cramming a flood of sticky notes and highlighted text in preparation for this semester’s final exams.

While many students might be tempted to spend some extra hours with the books in lieu of sleep the night before an exam, research shows that trading sleep for study will actually be detrimental to mental performance.

Instead, Dr. Philip Alapat, of Harris Health Sleep Disorders Center and the Baylor College of Medicine, suggests that students study regularly over the semester and get the recommended eight hours sleep every night—especially the night before the exam. In fact, most college-age students should get eight to nine hours sleep each night.

“Memory recall and ability to maintain concentration are much improved when an individual is rested,” says Alapat. “By preparing early and being able to better recall what you have studied, your ability to perform well on exams is increased.”

Activities such as pulling all-nighters and consuming excess caffeine—from beverages such as coffee, tea, or energy drinks—can lead to an increased risk of developing insomnia and alcohol abuse habits, as well as being involved in motor-vehicle accidents.

Being deprived of sleep on a regular basis can also lead to increased risk of developing long-term diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

How should students prepare for exams?

  • Get the recommended eight hours of sleep.
  • Study during periods of optimal brain function (usually around 6 to 8 pm).
  • Avoid studying when the brain is less alert (usually in the early afternoon).
  • Avoid overconsumption of caffeinated drinks.

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Leah PayneLeah Payne