When we think of a learner getting good results in tests and examinations, we usually picture that learner cramming until the early hours of the morning, or “burning the midnight oil”. Many people think that sleepless nights are the way to achieve good academic results, because sacrificing sleep means working hard, right? Well, no, not at all – research has shown that depriving one’s self of sleep to cram information the night before a test is not a good way to achieve better academic results. In fact, the opposite is true – sleep is essential for a student to get good results in tests and examinations for a variety of reasons. Let’s have a look at a couple below:
Sleep increases energy levels and concentration
Energy and concentration
There is a direct link between sleep, energy levels and concentration. It goes without saying that if we don’t get enough sleep, we’re going to have lower levels of energy, and low levels of energy mean poor concentration. We all know that if we get a good night’s sleep, we feel more alert the next day, and more able to perform tasks and concentrate on important things. By contrast, if we haven’t had enough sleep or our quality of sleep is poor, we’re likely to feel tired, groggy, and irritable. We may also feel confused or in a haze, all of which have a negative impact on our ability to concentrate.
More specifically, a lack of sleep has been shown to slow down our cognition, which refers to the mental processes our brains engage in. These processes include things like planning, decision-making, and most importantly, remembering, all of which require our concentration. So, if our energy levels are low due to a lack of sleep, our ability to concentrate is going to be poor. Good concentration is vital for successful studying, and good academic results.
How sleep helps
So, how does sleep improve our energy levels? Research has shown that a good night’s sleep is essential in maintaining sustainable levels of energy because when we sleep, our bodies are able to repair the wear and tear in which our daily bodily functions result. Functions like respiration, processing toxins and digestion all take incredible amounts of energy and have quite a severe impact on our bodies. Sleep helps lessen these impacts by regulating body temperature, repairing and strengthening the immune system, and balancing hormone levels. When our bodies are in good condition and function at an optimal level, we experience better, more sustainable levels of energy. Better energy levels mean better concentration, and better concentration means better results!
Sleep improves memory
Usually when we talk about memory, we think of what is called explicit or declarative memory, which is the kind of memory where information is recalled consciously. One sub-type of explicit memory is semantic memory, which is the memory of factual knowledge and information. Achieving good academic results in tests and examinations where no information or additional materials are provided depends entirely on semantic memory.
While we tend to think that our brains “shut down” somewhat during sleep, they are actually really active, going through multiple cycles of different types of sleep. There are five kinds of sleep, which all serve different purposes. The most important one for memory is slow-wave sleep, which we know as “deep sleep”. This kind of sleep is so important for making memories that the memory consolidation (discussed below) that occurs during this period is also known as “sleep-dependent memory processing”.
Consolidation refers to the brain’s ability to transform newly acquired information into long-term memory. In a nutshell, consolidation is the strengthening of signalling of information between brain cells. When that signalling is strong, information recall is good. Information can’t be recalled unless it has been consolidated. While consolidation begins within minutes of acquiring the new information, sleep has been shown to be vital in consolidating memory.
While little is known about sleep in general, studies have repeatedly shown that when people sleep shortly after studying, they are more able to recall the new information they learned before they slept. In fact, not only are they able to recall this information better the next day, but they are better able to recall this information for multiple weeks! The more information a learner can recall during a test or examination, the better their academic results will be.
Tips for a good night’s rest
What this all goes to show is that sleep is vital for your child to achieve good academic results. Follow the tips below to help your child get a good night’s rest.
- Get enough sleep: while there’s no “hard and fast” rule, in general, children between the ages of 7 and 12 need about 10 to 11 hours of sleep per day, while children between the ages of 12 and 18 need about 8 to 9 hours of sleep per day.
- Avoid caffeine and sugar: to help your child sleep better, ensure that they don’t consume any caffeine or sugar before bedtime.
- Avoid too much stimulation before bed: this includes not using any electronic devices for several hours before bedtime. The “blue light” that screens emit trick our brains into thinking it’s daytime and, therefore, that we need to be awake.
- Create a calming environment: ensure that your child’s bedroom is quiet and dimly lit, so that neither sleep nor noise prevent them from falling or staying asleep.
- Stick to a sleep schedule: going to sleep at the same time each nighthelps to regulate your child’s internal body clock. Sticking to a sleep schedule could help them fall asleep faster and help them stay asleep for the night.
By Jacqui Smit