• Question: There seems to be a lot of information out there with regards sleep and brain functioning. If a student has no exam in the morning and has an exam at 1.30, what would you advise in terms of sleeps and naps and so on for peak performance? Also, how can they keep themselves fresh for peak performance between exam time slots?

    Asked by mrgsimpson to Russell, Matt D, Colin, Chris J, Anna R, Alice on 27 Apr 2015.
    • Photo: anon

      anon answered on 27 Apr 2015:

      There is also a lot of studies on the benefits of sleep on helping anxiety. Encouraging students to get a good night sleep instead of pulling an ‘all-nighter’ cramming for the test may be useful – as science has shown you actually remember more if you had a proper nights sleep. Here is a nice and short Ted-Ed Talk on the importance of sleep which may be good to show a class a couple days before the exam: http://ed.ted.com/lessons/the-benefits-of-a-good-night-s-sleep-shai-marcu

      As for between exam time slots, a good rule of thumb is 10-20 minutes is enough to give you some benefits without much grogginess since you hit the lighter stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. 30 minutes is not benefit – you will wake up groggy before restorative benefits. 60 minute nap is best for improving performance, some grogginess when waking up. 90 minutes is ideal – improving procedural and creative performance and being easier to wake up from.

    • Photo: Chris Jarrold

      Chris Jarrold answered on 27 Apr 2015:

      I’m far from being an expert on sleep and learning/performance, and would certainly defer to Sean on the benefits of sleep the night before an exam (which of course I’d fully agree with).

      The one thing I’d note is that the work on sleep and learning that I do know something about is about the way in which the brain ‘consolidates’ (deepens) its learning of material encountered the day before. So, the benefits of sleep in that context would have taken place well before the exam, i.e. in the nights after each revision session. I’m not sure that the amount of sleep in the night just before an exam itself would make much difference to this.

      That’s not to say that you shouldn’t get a good night’s sleep before an exam – of course you should!

    • Photo: Colin Espie

      Colin Espie answered on 29 Apr 2015:

      hi mrgsimpson
      great question?
      first thing i’d say is that afternoon exams will be better than morning ones for most students – especially teenagers. this is because in young people there is a phase delay in the circadian alerting system and the typical teenager experiences the first part of the morning a bit like adults experience late sleep/ waking up.
      peak performance will certainly require an habitual sleep period that is adequate and stable if possible 7 nights per week. many young people accrue a sleep debt and then try to repay it with long sleeps at the weekend. this is not very healthy. sleep like diet needs to be taken more seriously. it is crucial to learning and memory.
      naps shouldn’t be necessary but if students feel excessively sleepy it may point to spoor and inadequate sleep pattern at night. if a student is excessively sleepy at school then it would serve them well to have a 10 minute nap (not longer). brief naps are restorative in the face of sleepiness; longer naps leave the person groggy because they get too much into consolidated sleep and experience the kind go sleep inertia that you get in the period soon after rising in the morning.
      hope this is useful!