You’re sitting in a lecture at around 2:00 in the afternoon, Thursday, week nine. The monotonous voice babbling to you is as good as a lullaby. When you blink, your eyes take longer and longer to open, and every time you do open them, it takes ages for them to refocus on the speaker. The warmth of the lecture hall begins to permeate your muscles, allowing your shoulders to drop. Your folded arms melt into each other. You begin to think about something, and, all of a sudden, you’re not hearing the lecture because you have dozed off as a result of the four hours of sleep you’ve had in the last two days.
For many, including the author of this article, this is a far too frequent occurrence. Consistently late nights, early mornings, and long hours in the library draw you ever closer to the teetering point between conscious exhaustion and deep sleep. But while you may think you’re benefitting from the long hours you spend at night working on assignments, the actuality may be that you’re doing more harm than good.
A recent study conducted by Siobhan Banks at the University of South Australia has found these eccentric study habits are crippling students. Late nights and early rises cripple your recall capacity, so staying up past 10:00 p.m. isn’t actually making progress.
These findings are particularly true when studying for an exam. Banks says good sleep after a day of cramming allows students to more effectively absorb the information they have processed. She says the more consistent students can be with their sleep patterns, the more effective their study will be.
In a similar study, researchers at the American Psychology Association found a connection between ineffective study and sleeping habits during high school. When we are going through high school during adolescence, we need approximately ten hours of sleep to compensate for the growth our bodies are going through. With the pressures of school and the distractions of the Internet and other media, however, many of our generation have gotten into the habit of staying up until 11:30 p.m. and waking up at 6:30 a.m. Not only is this pattern detrimental to our health, but it breeds bad habits for when we arrive at university and need to maintain all of the other aspects of our health such as diet, exercise, and social needs on our own.
These kinds of short, ineffectual, inconsistent sleeping patterns then making studying even more difficult than it already is. The time students designate to study then becomes time spent staring blankly at notes and snoozing rather than absorbing information. In extreme cases, this can result in forms of narcolepsy where students fall asleep for short periods of time during the day and get interrupted sleep at night.
So how do we battle the innate temptation to stay up late working? Push yourself to go to bed at 10:00 p.m. and get at least eight hours of sleep before picking things up again. This will help your long term memory and prepare you more adequately for exams and assessments as well as solidifying the information for your own use.