Sleeping Tips for Optimal Exam Performance

Alison M. Tarwater

The sleeping student makes for the perfect prank target.

Tired? Me too. If midterm season has you trapped in a cycle of stress and sleep deprivation, you are not alone. But this exhaustion could be hurting more than our happiness/wardrobe choices/social life. It turns out that our performance on the very tests, papers, and projects for which we keep ourselves awake will suffer as well. According to a study presented by neurology professor Clifford B. Saper at the Society of Neuroscience's annual meeting in New Orleans last week, losing sleep impairs our alertness and empathy, two cognitive abilities crucial to performing well on exams. Don't fret though, Dr. Saper has some sage advice on how to manipulate your sleep schedule to best serve your intellectual needs.

Learn, sleep, repeat: Learn the material in advance and then sleep on it—sleep builds memory, so if you pull an all-nighter before the test, you probably won't recall those lecture slides you're frantically trying to memorize. Get the requisite seven to eight hours of sleep the night before too, to optimize alertness on the test.

"Trying to stay up late and cram for a test is probably the very worst thing you could do," Saper said.

Early to bed, early to rise: For the inevitable late night studying you'll be doing the night before a midterm, it is better to get to sleep at a reasonable hour and wake up early than to stay up for that extra hour.

"Go to bed at midnight and do your hour of studying at 7 a.m.," Saper said. "It makes more sense to do it then, rather than between midnight and 1 a.m."

Biorhythmic gymnastics: Try to get on a sleeping pattern that has you waking up around test time every day for a week or so in advance so that your biological clock can acclimate to the test day schedule for optimal academic performance.

"Whatever you make a habit of doing your body will adjust to," Saper said.

Toto, we're not in kindergarten anymore: No more naps! And no more studying or movies in bed. Dr. Saper says to not do anything in your bed besides get a good night's sleep.

"Little tricks like that help in making you associate your bed with sleep," he said.

If all of this sounds like a tall order to you, we're on the same page. Even if you find it hard to work these tips into your routine, be sure to keep them in mind as you approach your next tests and deadlines!

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