It’s a long day and short night for most students in high school and college, with classes, studying, sports,friends, meals and activities vying for time. It’s easy to give sleep a low priority, but a mistake.
As Benedict Carey informs us (New York Times, October 16, 201: “Want To Ace That Test? Get The Right Kind of Sleep.”), “Sleep is learning. Of a very specific kind.”
Scientists are learning that a primary function of sleep is to consolidate learning, to help us sift through experience to store that which is significant. Students who learn “sleep study skills” can enhance their chances of success in the classroom and on tests. When we sleep, the brain is still on the move. If you want to improve at something you have been working on, a good night’s sleep is your best friend.
Be sure to study, of course, but plan to go to sleep so that you will get a good eight hours of sleep. (Easier said than done, we know.) Don’t waste time that could be spent sleeping on checking Instagram, posting on Facebook, or texting your friends. Research tells us that during the first half of the night, when we are in our deepest sleep, our brain is busy consolidating new facts, figures, and words. If you studying a tough new language, study, then go to sleep to incorporate your learning.
During the second half of the night, sleep improves motor memory— key for athletes and musicians. Knowing this can help older students to be tactical in planning for study and sleep. For example, as Mr. Carey suggests, “If it’s a French test, turn off your lights at the normal time, and get up early to study. If it’s a music recital, do the opposite: stay up a little later preparing, and sleep in to your normal time in the morning. If you’re going to burn the candle, it’s good to know which end to burn it on.”
Math requires both memory and understanding. This is where REM sleep makes an impact. Studies have shown that REM sleep is extremely good for “…deciphering patterns, comprehensions, and seeing a solution to a hard problem. If the test is mostly a memory challenge (formulas, multiplication tables), then go to bed at the usual time and get up early to prep. But if it’s hard problems, it’s REM sleep you want.”
Naps, too, play a role in success for students. Research shows that a one hour nap, for example, contains all of the elements— in shorter form– than a full night’s sleep. Getting very tired while studying is often the brain telling you that it needs a break. A cautionary note here is that if a long nap will get in the way of a good night’s sleep, then set your alarm so you don’t nap too long.
What does all of this mean for the night before the SAT or ACT? Since these tests ask for both facts as well as analysis, a very good night’s sleep is in order with time in the morning for a review of key facts over a good breakfast. Any serious prep should have been done well in advance.
Sarah C. Reese, Informed Educational Solutions