Students make up the largest percentage of our population that are sleep deprived - particularly undergraduates.
We are often taught that it is important to have enough sleep. However we have never really known entirely why that is. I remember all too well the appeal of sacrificing your sleep to give yourself more time to revise. As a student it always felt like there were simply not enough hours in the day. Well I've got news for you, there is... there has to be - you have to make there be!
There is still a lot that scientists and doctors do not know about the brain and its relationship with sleep. This is what we do know though:
- Regular and restful sleep is essential for good health
- Sleep deprivation can affect important parts of your mind and body like your mood, energy, memory, reaction time and efficiency
Sleep works in different stages and we can roughly understand our sleep cycle to do the following things:
- It helps you restore energy that you need for the following day.
- It allows your brain an undisturbed window to create new pathways for things like learning and general memory capacity.
- It does a lot of admin work in this time - like transferring short term memories over to long term.
Therefore, our all-nighters actually end up affecting the way our brain works by making it less efficient in limiting how much can actually be stored in our memory. Sleep is needed to transfer the short-term memories into long term ones. Based on this logic a top tip for revision would be to make sure you read a summarised version of your notes once before you sleep, and once when you wake up.
Often a lot of people have trouble sleeping, especially students in general but particularly when the exam period arrives due to the nerves. Here are a few ways you could help yourself wind down to allow going to sleep become easier:
- Stop using all forms of technology at least 30 minutes before going to bed. This will help the light block melatonin in our brains which can make it easier to fall asleep. In this 30 minute period you can read a book (not on a kindle!) or simply lay in bed looking up, relaxing. This will help your brain wind down
- Don't drink any caffeinated drinks after 3pm
- Try and do some form of physical activity in the day. This does not necessarily have to involve a 45 minute work-out at the gym but could simply be a walk or a jog. This will allow you to get tired earlier in the day due to a shortage of energy being taken up by physical activity. Exercise can also help reduce stress, as your mind is distracted for a short while
Another issue regarding sleep is how much sleep should we sleep. The truth is; no one really knows because we are all different and so are our brains. The best thing to do would be to keep a sleep diary where you allow yourself to wake up naturally for a week, log down the times and after you've collected this data for a week average out the hours. This will give you a rough estimate of how many hours you need as a minimum. Oversleeping is definitely a thing so only allow yourself one extra hour of sleep on the weekends, to ensure you have maximum productivity when it comes to brain power.
The last thing anyone would want is to have the way you revise actually end up affecting how much you revise. Don't put yourself in that undesirable position where you are working against your body and mind. It is important to respect our brains and allow them the winding down time they need. A car won't run without petrol - so your brain can't run without sleep!