For many high school and college students, cramming for an all-nighter before a big quiz or exam comes with the territory. But what many students and their parents might not realize is that this strategy to succeed might actually be doing more harm than good.
For children and adolescents, sleep is critically important for overall brain health.
“Sleep is the period of time where we consolidate learned information from the day before, whether that information is related to math homework or puck handling skills in hockey,” said Michael Howell, M.D., assistant professor with the Department of Neurology at the University of Minnesota.
Howell says that sleep allows the mind to “mentally imprint important information and clear the table” for learning the next day.
After a poor night’s sleep, a student might have trouble paying attention and could even succumb to behavioral issues that can be mistaken for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In addition, one recent sleep study proved that staying up late to study actually leads to decreased academic performance.
Howell offers these bits of advice for students as they head back to school:
- Hit the books, then the sheets. It’s ideal to study right after class is over, but also to take another look at material for before you go to sleep (at a reasonable time). Studying right before bed allows the mind to ruminate on the topic while sleeping (often with dreams) that may lead to better memory consolidation.
- Schedule your sleep. Determine how much sleep your body actually needs and your natural rising time. Try sleeping in a few days in a row to the point where you begin to start waking up at the same time. Once you have the number of hours your body needs, work backwards from there to determine the appropriate time to go to bed. With most teenagers and college students, your natural falling asleep time and rising time will be a little later than you want it. That means most students will have a hard time going to bed early and are sleepy waking up. The only remedy to this is consistent wake times (even on the weekends) with immediate sunlight exposure. However, your body should adjust within a few days to at most a few weeks to the new sleep time. Try to stay consistent!
- Cut the caffeine. Decrease your caffeine intake, including minimizing evening caffeine and eliminate energy drinks from your diet, especially in the 3-5 hour window before you try to go to bed. Energy drinks are not good for you anyways and make it harder to get to sleep at a reasonable time.