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The benefits of a good night's sleep on your studies

By Ana Isabel Alonsagay | 23 July 2018

It’s a seemingly never-ending cycle – a critical exam is waiting just around the corner, and you’re not exactly the most prepared out of your peers. In an effort to make up for your lack of readiness, you crack open that can of Red Bull, settle yourself in a comfy desk chair and psych yourself up for an entire night of no sleep and cramming.

Or perhaps you’ve got that assessment due in only a matter of days, and are scrambling to make time during your last few nights to get those 5,000 words in?

It’s an all-too-common ordeal, though students must start realising that they’re doing more of a disservice to their studies than they think.

dark-skinned male asleep after intense studying session

While it can be tempting to go into all-out panic mode and just shoehorn every bit of information you can into one entire night’s worth of study, tackling those exams or assessments on total sleep deprivation will not only hamper your ability to retain important data – but wreck your overall academic performance.

While our sleep needs vary from person to person, the Australian Centre for Education in Sleep (ACES) makes the general recommendation of at least 7-9 hours a night for adults. So contrary to popular bad habits, here are the benefits of sleep on your assessments and exams as you cruise your way through student life. 

Your creativity levels spike

Through studies made by Harvard University and Boston College researchers, it’s been found that the emotional components of memory are bolstered during sleep, allowing your creativity to better flourish.

Scientists have also discovered that REM sleep – the stage of the sleep cycle with the highest brain activity and linked to learning, memory, and mood – helps the brain find innovative connections to seemingly unrelated ideas.

The REM stage of sleep can also help you dream, which, in turn, increases your chance of being able to lucid dream. This phenomenon can also have massive benefits to your creativity, as it allows you to explore different, imaginative possibilities and scenarios without being tied down to the rules of reality.

With increased creativity levels, your mind can more easily work out clever solutions to difficult problems, which you can use to your advantage when structuring that essay argument or tackling the challenging problems of an assessment.

Your strengthen your memory abilities

According to research, undergoing deep sleep allows the brain to properly process the day’s events – a mental procedure that’s vital to the formation of our memories.

During this stage, the regions of the brain known as the hippocampus and the neocortex communicate with one another; the parts associated with memory-making and storage.

Scientists believe that this back-and-forth is the brain transferring memories from its “temporary” cache in the hippocampus to the long-term depository of the neocortex. Allowing your mind to undergo this activity by giving it enough hours of sleep is sure to help you retain the required information for that upcoming test or exam.

You’re in a better mood

With results pulled from sleeping experiments, it’s been shown that people who are sleep-deprived are more prone to irritability, anger, and hostility. This is linked to the brain’s vulnerability to greater emotional reactivity, leaving those suffering from sleep loss a lot more likely to have negative reactions to scenarios that don’t go their way.

Looking into specific activity in the brain, research has suggested that the cause of this increased negative mood is due to the amygdala working in overdrive – the area of the brain critical to the processing of emotions (and thus integral to the negative experiences of rage or anger).

improved mood concept - smiley face

Additionally, while this area of the brain is charged up due to sleep loss – the other area central to regulating the amygdala’s functions is significantly disconnected. In short; the less you sleep, the more likely you are to focus on the negative, making academic tasks more frustrating, overwhelming, and an absolute pain to complete. (In the long-term, a lack of sleep can even leave a person at risk of major depression).

On the flipside, studies have shown that those who get a consistently adequate amount of sleep experience a boost in mood and greater emotional stability. So for the sake of you and others – be sure to get those zz’s in!

Greater concentration and productivity

To prevent yourself from burning or zoning out while reading those boring blocks of academic texts, those precious hours of sleep are absolutely imperative.

Studies show that getting the optimal amount of sleep in can help you recover from distractions a lot faster than their sleep-deprived counterparts. This is especially handy when you’re studying in a white noise-ridden environment, be it your kids rough-housing in the living room or your spouse catching up on their weekly HBO series.

People have also shown to make better decisions and commit fewer mistakes when running on a good night’s sleep. In fact, sleep has shown to boost your split-second decision-making abilities by 4%, which may not seem that high a number – but it still helps.

In contrast, those functioning on sleep deprivation actually have a 50% slower response timeand a lower accuracy rate with task performance than someone under the influence of alcohol. Imagine that; you’re a lot more likely to successfully complete your assessment in an alcohol-fuelled state, than one struggling on a few hours of sleep.

You’re less stressed

Last, but definitely not least, a good amount of sleep per night is guaranteed to lower your stress levels, making your student responsibilities a lot less daunting to tackle.

Giving your body the adequate rest it needs helps it to regulate blood pressure, which not only keeps your anxiety at bay, but puts you at a much lower risk of heart attack, heart failure, or stroke. You’ll also acquire sharper judgement and due to finer decision-making skills, are better-equipped to solve problems or taxing issues that may come your way.

relaxed man taking a break from work

With a boost in mental clarity, you’ll be more capable of organising your priorities and taking on the stresses of academic life with a more composed, level-headed mindset.

It’s important to note that stress and sleep are also a two-way street. The less you sleep, the more cognitively-impaired you feel, causing your stress levels to rise. The higher your stress levels, the harder it is to achieve the sleep you need, which can even lead to sleep disorders if maintained for long periods of time.

As a lot of research have shown, skimping on sleep is definitely not doing your study life any favours. Instead sitting in front of your laptop at 1 AM in the morning, trying to process your course materials through droopy eyes and a cued yawn every other minute, it’s probably time for you to drop the books and get some well-deserved shut-eye instead.

Of course, it’s also best to ease the guilt of choosing sleep over study by revising your materials on a constant rather than a last-minute cramming basis. Your body and grades will thank you for it.

For more academic advice, be sure to check out our other articles on student life and online learning here on SkillsTalk.

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