High school and university exams are right around the corner. Your kids and grandkids have their noses stuck in textbooks and are furiously taking notes to prepare. But have you also noticed more yawning and droopy eyelids throughout the day?
Many students engage in ‘all-nighters’ prior to exams—staying up all or most of the night to study or complete assignments. One or two nights of skipped sleep may not seem like it will affect their grades, but a good night’s sleep-- every night-- is important to academic success.
Five reasons why losing sleep is bad for learning:
1. Sleep deprivation decreases daytime alertness. Losing just 1.5 hours of sleep in one night could make you up to 32% less alert the next day. 1 Students will likely find it harder to pay attention in class or concentrate on lessons if they aren’t getting a full night’s sleep.
2. Losing sleep makes it harder to form memories.2 While we sleep, the brain moves information from the hippocampus (the memory-creating portion of the brain) to the prefrontal cortex where long-term memories are stored. Not getting enough sleep makes it harder to retain new information, meaning any studying done after skipping sleep will probably not stick.
3. Cramming is less effective than other study methods. If your child or grandchild is pulling an all-nighter, then they are probably hoping to cram in last minute information to ace an exam. However, cramming is already a poor way to study—sleep deprived or not. Spacing out study sessions over a longer period of time has been shown to be more effective than cramming material just before a test.3 A full day or night of uninterrupted studying can mean a lot of forgotten dates and equations, but shorter study sessions in the weeks leading up to an exam will help you child recall these important facts.
4. Sleep deprivation makes you more susceptible to illness.4 Sleep deprivation compromises the immune system, leading you to get sick more often. All that studying will be in vain if your child or grandchild is missing class or suffering from a cold during exams!
5. Pulling an all-nighter may result in lower grades5 If skipping sleep results in decreased alertness, poor study habits, and illness, then poorer academic outcomes should come as no surprise. Pulling all-nighters may mean your child or grandchild is missing class to catch-up on sleep or falling asleep in lectures. This could cause an endless cycle of late assignments, more missed sleep, and poorer grades.
So, how can students insure they get enough quality sleep when they’re stressing about exams, work, and their social lives? A few simple steps can put them on the path to better sleep and academic success.
Five tips for getting enough sleep during the school year:
1. Don’t procrastinate. Easier said than done, but leaving homework and studying to the last minute likely means late nights playing catch-up. Have your child keep a diary and plan ahead. Not only will they get more sleep, but they’ll likely be less stressed too!6
2. Establish a sleep/wake routine and stick to it—even on weekends. Going to bed and waking up at the same times will make it easier to fall asleep at night, as your body will naturally start preparing itself for sleep as bedtime approaches.
3. Avoid caffeine close to bedtime. There are the obvious caffeine culprits to avoid: coffee, tea, energy drinks, and soda. But you should also skip chocolate late in the day. Even some pain medications can contain the same amount of caffeine as a small cup of coffee.7
4. Turn off electronics one hour before bed. Smart phones, gaming consoles, TV, and laptops all interfere with a getting a good night’s sleep. Light emitted from electronics delays the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone.8 Also, constant texts and pings from friends are sure to disturb your teen’s slumber!
5. Short naps to recharge are OK. If they’re still finding it hard to get through the day, a quick catnap can help—just don’t let your child sleep too long or too close to bedtime. This will make sleeping at night harder. Another benefit of naps: studies have shown that sleep increases the ability to learn9. A quick nap after a study session will help the information sink in.
The sleepvantage team
Frenda, Steven J. "Sleep Deprivation and False Memories." Psychological Science. Vol. 25, no. 7. 16 July 2014. (26 August 2015)
Moller-Levet, Carla S. "Effects of insufficient sleep on circadian rhythmicity and expression amplitude of the human blood transcriptome." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). 25 February 2013. (26 August 2015)
Thacher, Pamela V. “Universtiy Sutdents and the ‘All Nighter’: Correlates and Patterns of Students’ Engagement in a Single Night of Total Sleep Deprivation. Behavioral Sleep Medicine. Vol. 6, Issue 1 . 10 January 2008 (26 August 2015)
Derry CJ, Derry S, Moore RA. “Caffeine as an analgesic adjuvant for acute pain in adults.” The Cochrane Library. 14 March 2012.. 14 March 2012..
Chahal H, Fung C, Kuhle S, Veugelers PJ. “Availability and night-time use of electronic entertainment and communication devices are associated with short sleep duration and obesity among Canadian children.” Pediatr Obes 2013; 8: 42-51.
Anwar, Yasmin. "An Afternoon Nap Markedly Boosts the Brain's Learning Capacity." University of California Berkeley. 22 February 2010. (26 October 2014).