Factoring in Sleep When Taking Exams

Taking exams are a crucial part of any student’s school years, and there are many hints and tips to consider when revising. For example, in our feature ‘The Best Way to Revise for Exams Is . . .’ we recommend backwards revision. This means that rather than mindlessly memorising facts and bits of information, you ought to devote much of your revision time around “finding the right answers to frequently asked questions.”

While there are many tips on the web on how to best revise for exams, one factor that is rarely considered, is adopting a healthy sleeping habit. Not getting sufficient shut-eye can make exam preparation a lot more challenging. The reason? Your brain when sleep deprived is not firing on all cylinders.

A study on the effects of sleep loss and brain function by Professor Adrian Owen, a British neuroscientist based at the Brain and Mind Institute, showed that activity in a sleep-deprived brain is significantly lower than that of a brain that has had adequate sleep. This result can be attributed to the lack of activity in the brain’s frontal and parietal lobes, which both play an integral role in decision-making, problem solving, and memory.

Sleep deprivation can also have a knock-on effect on a student’s stress levels. Insufficient shut-eye, according to an article on The Independent leads to increased activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain which controls emotions. An overactive amygdala means you are vulnerable to heightened emotional responses, including anger and stress. Without enough quality sleep you will find it harder to keep calm and focused during the exam period.

There are several ways to improve sleeping habits. Dr. Paul Gringas writing for Leesa, lists three additions to the exam timetable that students and parents should follow. These are:

  • Immediate exposure to natural sunlight after waking up to prevent tiredness.
  • 20 minutes of vigorous exercise everyday to improve the slow sleep wave. This will lead to a better retention of facts and information.
  • Calculating the right amount of sleep time, including the allowance of a 30-minute time period to fall asleep.

Dr. Gringas points to the “increasing evidence about the role of sleep in helping memory and learning, mood and behaviour, and physical health.” In other words, consistently getting the recommended hours of sleep can help you better retain information and learn new concepts.

To improve the chances of getting a good sleep, it is recommended that you come up with a bedtime routine that will best prepare your body for bed. Two of the most important steps are to shut of technology at least 30 minutes before turning the lights off, and avoid caffeine 4 hours before sleeping.

Just in case you really do need to pull an all-nighter, there is a correct way to do this. Here on The Profs we developed a 4 Step Guide to Surviving an All-Nighter. It covers pointers on how you can maximise your no-sleep session, including what to eat and drink, and tips on staying focused.