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Peer blog: Sleep: my favourite, but often forgotten study strategy

By: Meghan White, 2nd Year Biology

I lost my ‘bedtime’ in elementary school but I would always go to sleep early anyway. In high school, everyone thought I was ridiculous for going to sleep early. They thought that I would surely change my sleep schedule when university came. Then I started at Queen’s, and some days I do rely on coffee, but usually I sleep 8-10 hours a night. University students aren’t well-known for their good sleep habits and I’ve had so many people tell me they don’t understand my self-imposed bedtime or say that it wouldn’t work for them. Not sleeping well is the norm, and is sometimes regarded as an accomplishment. Yet should it be?

Sleep is important, and exists for a reason. It has physical, emotional, and even academic benefits. It can help control metabolism, decrease inflammatory proteins, and reduce stress (Vyazovskiy 2015). Moreover, people are often much more joyful, energetic and attentive after a full night’s sleep; at least, I am!

Sleep is also key in memory consolidation and encoding, which is useful when you’re trying to understand and use complex new information in courses. Memory can be broken down into three parts: encoding (processing/acquiring information), storage (maintaining information), and retrieval (recalling information). Sleeping helps in the transition of taking in information to retaining it, making content-heavy courses seem more bearable. While you sleep, your hippocampus rearranges your memory and strengthens the emotional components of it, which can increase your creativity. Sleep also increases your attention span, which can lead to better note-taking, more effective studying and greater productivity overall.

My friends definitely notice when my sleep changes or if I’ve been awake for too long; I’m exhausted yet hyper, I’m unmotivated and I can’t focus for longer than 30 seconds. Sleep loss also has other effects:

  1. It decreases mood and energy. I’m definitely more stressed, more drained, and less happy if I haven’t been able to sleep well for a few days.
  2. It decreases motivation. Trying to stay awake requires all my energy and so I have little left to do anything else. When I find I have no motivation, 20-minute power naps are my best friend.
  3. It decreases productivity. I may be more likely to fall asleep in class, I often can’t concentrate taking an hour to read one page, or I lose all memory capability.
  4. It also weakens my immune system. I find that I get sick way more if I’ve been under stress or haven’t been sleeping. One of the best ways that I get over being sick is by sleeping.

Is the solution just hitting snooze and taking more naps? In some cases yes, but the National Sleep Foundation recommends getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night. This may seem daunting, but the SASS website has a lot of tips for getting not only more sleep, but better sleep. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Sleep as much as you needed to feel refreshed, but not more.
  • Get up at a consistent time throughout the week.
  • Turn off devices and stop work at least half an hour before you go to bed.
  • Make a sleep routine that could include a creating to-do list for tomorrow, stretching, or breathing exercises.
  • Deepen sleep by getting a steady daily amount of exercise.
  • Use white noise to help drown out background noise and improve sleep.
  • Keep your room temperature a little cool.
  • Eat a light snack before bed as hunger disturbs sleep.

If you’re really struggling to sleep and are worried about its impact on your health, contact Student Wellness Services. If you’re just looking to improve your grades in a way that doesn’t leave you burned out and makes you healthier too, here’s to sleep: my new favourite study strategy!

Sources:

Vyazovskiy V. V. (2015). Sleep, recovery, and metaregulation: explaining the benefits of sleep. Nature and science of sleep7, 171-84. doi:10.2147/NSS.S54036

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/excessive-sleepiness/support/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need

https://sass.queensu.ca/exam-prep/returned-tests-motivation-and-sleep/