For college students the country over, the beginning of December means it’s time to trade in beer bongs for study guides, camp out in the library and get familiar with the kid who spent the semester correcting the professor. Yes, final exam season is upon us. When it comes to beating the curve, there’s no substitute for, you know, learning the material. But, making time for sleep should also be a test-prep priority because shoddy rest doesn’t propel anyone to the top of the class. Here are three reasons to hit the sack when you hit the books.
It’ll Boost Your Memory Retention
An ever-growing body of research explores the impact of sleep on our ability to recollect information, experiences and skills. When it comes to locking in what we learn, deep sleep is key. Memory consolidation, the process of converting newly learned information into longer-term memories, takes place during this powered-down phase of sleep, when our brains cease absorbing the outside world to focus on refining and strengthening what we’ve already learned and perceived.
Interestingly enough, studies suggest that sleep enhances certain types of memory better than others. A nightly #hardeight appears particularly crucial for declarative memory — facts, figures and other discrete knowledge that can be stated in words. Cramming for tests is basically a feat of declarative memory. Studying formulas and theories only to forget them won’t do much good on exam day. Research shows that people retain information more easily when they sleep after learning it. So, review a semester’s worth of macroeconomic theory during the day, then lock in those concepts at night.
It’ll Improve Your Ability to Process Information
We perform some cognitive functions better than others when we’re under-slept. But, even if someone can solve proofs after pulling an all-nighter, they probably can’t work quickly as they would on solid rest. Complex cognitive processes take longer when our mental resources are stretched thin. Even subtly challenging tasks, such as picking up on sarcasm or subtext, require a bit more time. Working against the clock is already hard enough, and that James Joyce essay won’t write itself.
It’ll Reduce Your Stress Levels
Great test-takers maintain grace under pressure. But for sleep-deprived zombies, keeping calm can be tough. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol rise and survival-focused brains are primed to focus on the negative.
It’ll Help You Concentrate Better
Sustained focus is another cognitive task with which the bleary-eyed struggle. Long periods of divergent thinking — switching between different topics nimbly — are especially difficult. By hour three, that sleep-deprived attention span is overtaxed and underperforming.