Midterm Season: Sleep or Study

The night before taking a midterm exam, students often contemplate whether it would be more beneficial for them to sleep or stay up all night studying. In my personal experience, I have noticed that most of my friends choose to pull an all-nighter the night before an exam in order to study. They spend the entire night and early morning in the library, rereading their lecture notes and memorizing stacks of flashcards. When they begin to feel tired, they caffeinate themselves or swallow another Adderall pill in hopes of re-energizing themselves. By the time it is exam time, 8 a.m., they have filtered through so much material that they are definitely ready to ace their test. Right?

What does pulling an all-nighter the night before an important exam really do to your body and mind?

It makes your brain dysfunctional

According to various studies, each hour of sleep someone sacrifices under the suggested number of sleeping hours — about seven hours — results in the loss of brain efficiency. Sacrificing all seven hours of sleep that one needs to function normally will cause one’s brain to be dysfunctional, ultimately resulting in a decrease in performance. Staying up all night will make your body tired and your mind tired. Essentially, according to a UCLA study, “sacrificing sleep for extra study time, whether it’s cramming for a test or plowing through a pile of homework, is actually counterproductive. If a student sacrifices sleep in order to study more than usual, he or she is likely to have more academic problems, not less, on the following day.”

It activates your short-term memory

This might sound like a good thing; after all you only need to remember this information for the upcoming exam right? Think again. According to research from the Texas A&M College of Medicine, the information retained in one’s short-term memory as a result of cramming “disappears within a period of a few minutes to a few hours. It doesn’t allow information to assimilate from short-term to long-term memory.” So, all of the time you spent that night memorizing various scientific terms and such could ultimately be pointless.

With that being said, studying is extremely important in regards to academic achievement. Experts suggest that in order to retain the necessary information for an important test or exam, one should study during the day over a period of multiple days. Experts also stress that it is important to take breaks every hour or two while studying.

As a student, I have had my share of late night study sessions in the library. I actually pulled my first all-nighter two days ago. I had seen my friends do it over and over again and hoped that it would help prepare me for my test. However, the following day, I felt extremely tired for my exam and my brain felt foggy. I also did not feel entirely prepared for my test. As a result of my personal experience and the research cited above, I advise you to to always choose necessary sleep over studying. Better yet, study during the day so that at night you can sleep guilt-free.