Ahhh, sleep! Yeah, we’re sure you’ve heard this before…but it’s true: sleep is incredibly important when it comes to doing well on tests and remembering things you’ve learned. Without it, your brain won’t have the time it needs to do its work cataloguing all the information it has processed in a day. Yes, you read that right–your brain is actually working while you are sleeping. So, while you are powering down for a night of sweet dreams, your brain is actually powering up to do the work necessary to learn and remember.
Acquisition, Consolidation, and Recall
While acquisition and recall happen when you’re awake, consolidation of information actually occurs when you’re asleep. This process refers to the strengthening of neural connections, which are necessary for turning information you have learned into memories stored in your brain for later use. It’s also important to note that consolidation doesn’t just happen overnight, it’s believed to occur over the course of a couple nights–so getting regular, consistent sleep may be more important than you think. Researchers don’t actually know much about how this process works, but it’s clear that sleep plays a critical role in learning and memory, and without adequate rest, your brain can’t do the necessary work to help you function properly when you’re awake.
REM vs. SWS
You’ve probably heard of REM (rapid eye movement), but what about SWS? It turns out, researchers think that SWS (slow-wave sleep), or that deep, restorative sleep that we all crave, is actually critical for consolidation processes. This type of sleep helps you retain and store information and memories crucial for successful learning. Of course, that’s not to say that REM sleep isn’t important! Some research suggests that REM sleep, often responsible for all those dreams you’ve been having, also plays a critical role in learning, especially with language recall.
To Cram or Not to Cram?
In a perfect world, you would have laid out a plan to study for a test days or even weeks in advance. But we all know that life sometimes gets in the way or maybe you procrastinated and are now faced with a midterm that’s…tomorrow (!). What do you do? Stay up all night cramming your heart out? Or do some targeted practice and review and hit the sack at a reasonable time? Based on what we know about sleep and sleep deprivation, we’d say you should prioritize sleep. Even if it means not having all the information that you think you’ll need for your test, losing sleep won’t only affect that test you’re taking, but everything else you may have to do that day. Not only are you more likely to encounter a poor result on your assessment, but you can also expect to perform poorly on whatever other tasks you may need to accomplish that day.
The Final Verdict
When faced with making preparations for a test, it’s important to prioritize sleep. Even if you don’t have time to do the kind of studying or review you want, a good night’s sleep will at least help you retain the information you have learned in class, and will help you with everything else you need to do to get through the day.
Now that you’ve prioritized getting the rest you need, you might consider doing some backwards planning, starting with your goals and then figuring out the steps you need to accomplish them. Don’t forget, we’ve written all about different note taking methods and how to focus your efforts once you decide on the best method for you. However you choose to plan and study for your next assessment, make sure to budget time for sleeping so your brain can do its job come test day.
Check back on our blog for our take on exercise and how movement helps you learn.