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Want to do well on your exams? Get some sleep

Get sleep

I’ve been hearing for years about the importance of sleep. No matter how many times my mom’s told me to go to bed at a decent hour, I never really developed good sleep habits. I stay up late reading, studying, or, let’s be honest, watching Netflix. Trust me, I binge watch with the best of them. You don’t even want to know how many episodes of “Parks and Recreation” and “Criminal Minds” I’ve watched.

Well… sometimes your mom is right.

Matthew Walker convinced me that sleep is crucial to our ability to learn and make lasting memories. According to a recent study, sleep impacts information processing in three ways:

  1. Sleeping after learning saves memories. One of the three steps to moving information into our long term memories is the consolidation that happens during sleep. If you don’t sleep within the first twenty four hours of learning something, you don’t consolidate those memories.
  2. Sleeping after learning integrates the information and inspires creativity. You know the expression, “just sleep on it?” When you sleep, it allows your brain to move into a more diffused rather than focused state, allowing you to see problems from different angles or to get unstuck on a problem. In other words, it helps you see the forest *and* the trees. Turns out that in almost every language there’s an expression for “sleep on a problem.” Just goes to show there’s a close tie between sleep and problem solving.
  3. Sleeping before learning helps you to learn and make lasting memories. During sleep, we experience “sleep spindles,” a process that takes memories from the hippocampus into the cortex, or long term memory center. Without plenty of sleep, the brain doesn’t have time to process what we’ve learned. To put this in perspective, the brains of students who pull an all nighter have a 40% deficit in the ability to make new memories.

So, sleep is pretty important. No big deal; we can all use a bit more sleep.

But, Walker’s studies taught me something else… something that will definitely bum you out.

Technology in the bedroom is a bad idea.

Apparently, technology can create a kind of anxiety when used late at night. We wait to get responses to texts, post things on Instagram and wait for likes, or Snap our friends. This can lead to sleep procrastination. We all know how easy it is to write one more text, look at one more website, etc. I know I’m guilty of this… The biggest lie I tell myself is, “Just one more episode and then I’ll go to sleep.”

Technology alters our biorhythms. The blue wavelength emitted by our devices prevents the release of melatonin, which in impacts our ability to fall asleep.

Listen, I know none of us are actually going to eliminate cell phones or laptops from our night time rituals. But, it’s a good idea to stop using technology an hour or two before going to sleep. And if that’s impossible, look into using something like f.lux to help your laptop and cell phone screens emit less blue light.

So, if you want to ace your tests and study well this semester, it’s time to listen to your mom and get to bed. Do it for your brain.

Thanks for reading, ClassTrackers!

For more details, watch Matthew’s presentation.


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