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At one time or another, most of us have burned the midnight oil to cram in some extra work late at night. But research shows that it’s probably more helpful to turn in early and get a full night’s rest than it is to keep working into the wee hours of the morning. 

Beyond giving you the energy to be active throughout the day, sleep helps you to focus and sustain attention, and it can even help your memory - while you sleep!

Towards the end of a recommended 6 to 8 hour night of sleep, the brain goes into Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, where the brain goes into a rejuvenation mode. This stage is crucial for studying, because it is during REM that the brain solidifies all of the information that was taken in the day before and consolidated them into memories. 

Dr. Matt Carter, a senior fellow from the University of Washington, has said that, “in REM sleep your brain is basically replaying everything that happened during the day and consolidating what you’ve learned.”

During the learning process, the brain’s synapses fire in particular patterns. At night, those patterns are firing over and over again, strengthening the path. During REM sleep the brain purges the small details that the brain remembers from the previous day that it won’t need, to make room for all the new things you’ll learn the next day.

“If you didn’t get a good night’s sleep it’s really hard to learn new things because you didn’t clear out all the synaptic connections,” Carter said. "The brain-rejuvenating functions happen in REM sleep, a later sleep stage, so if a student doesn’t sleep enough he won’t spend much time in REM."

Then, after waking from REM sleep, the mind seems “hyper-associative,” and people who have been awakened from REM have shown to perform better at creative problem solving tasks. You are much more likely to be a passive learner when you are tired.  And you learn less when you are passive then when you actively engage with new material, so it is critical that people studying get to bed earlier so they can achieve REM sleep.

Sleep Related Tips for Effective Study:

  • Get 8-9 hours of sleep each night (especially before exam periods)
  • Try to study during periods of optimal brain function (which tends to be around 6-8 p.m.)
  • Avoid studying in early afternoons, usually this is when you are least alert
  • Avoid drinking too many caffeinated drinks (caffeine can remain in your system for 6-8 hours)
  • Understand that habitual sleep deprivation can contribute to the onset of diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease
  • Work Efficiency

 
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