Staying Up Late to Study Hurts Students More Than It Helps

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Losing Z’s to Get A’s is Not The Most Effective Way to Study

School is back in session! And the new school year is kicking off with the first ACT testing of the fall this Saturday, Sept. 8.

For many high school students prepping for standardized tests, along with school projects, assignments and extracurriculars, it may seem like there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done. As a result, many students put off catching some ZZZ’s to ensure that they get straight A’s.

However, according to a recent study, while students who study more do better in school, those who stay up all night cramming for exams actually increase their chances of failing a test and have trouble understanding instruction the next day.

There’s a reason we need sleep: It’s the rest our brains need to reboot and store the memories and information we have absorbed throughout the day. It may not seem like it the night before a huge test, but studying and sleep go hand-in-hand.

So why do we pull all-nighters?

It seems like a simple trade-off: The more you study the more you will learn. There might not be enough time between school, sports and other extracurriculars to pack more study hours into your normal routine, so you sacrifice a few hours of sleep a night to get the job done.

While it may seem to boost your grades in the short term, your lack of proper sleep can keep you from fully absorbing the information, making it harder to recall the information and make useful connections among concepts later on down the road.

According to Harvard Medical School, sleep deprived minds aren’t able to maintain focus and attention, making it difficult to receive, process and retain information. Without a good night’s sleep, the exhausted neurons in our brains can’t function properly to organize information, and the ability to recall previously learned information is lost.

How will catching more ZZZ’s get more A’s?

As mentioned before, your brain needs time to process and store all of the memories and information you have accumulated throughout the day. During REM, or rapid eye movement sleep, your brain files away all those experiences and knowledge, and makes connections between old and new information. If you’re up all night studying for a cumulative final, your brain doesn’t get that chance to sort through all that information and you’re more likely to forget things.

Taking the time to catch a little shut-eye between study sessions makes it more likely that you will keep all the knowledge you’re cramming into your brain, and be able to process it in a way that makes it easier to understand.

So how do you balance increasing your study time without losing any sleep?

Here are a few tips on how to study smart:

  • Keep a schedule: Map out your study hours ahead of time. If you know you have a big AP Chemistry test next week, start studying now and devote more time to it. An hour of AP Chemistry study time to half an hour of Calculus or English, depending on what else is going on in those courses.
  • Take breaks: Your brain becomes exhausted from overwork, not just from being up all night, but also over short, intense periods of study time. A short 15-20 minute break to grab a snack, make a phone call or just sit and decompress is important to help your brain take a breather.
  • Use effective study tools: Making your study prectices more effective is key to ensuring that you’re getting the most out of your study time so you don’t cut into sleep hours.  Flash cards, charts, graphs, organized lists, etc. make information easy to digest and keep the brain sharp, rather than load it down with text-heavy readings.

It may be crunch time for those taking the ACT this weekend, but striking a healthy balance between studying and sleep will help make sure that time spent cramming was used wisely.

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