Home Health & Wellness Naps May Be the Key to Revision Success, According to Sleep Experts

Naps May Be the Key to Revision Success, According to Sleep Experts

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With GCSEs and A-Levels well underway, leading sleep expert Dr Sophie Bostock from Bensons for Beds has shared her tips to set parents and teenagers up for revision success.

“Before I studied sleep, my typical pre-exam preparation included re-writing my revision timetable 16 times (with progressively less ambitious productivity targets), eating a lot of chocolate biscuits, drinking a lot of coffee, and staying up late in a mad panic as I read and re-read the same material – over, and over, and over again.”

This approach, though unpleasant, always resulted in at least a passing mark, so I never really thought of changing it. Of course, there were a few downsides:

  • At the end of any exam period, I experienced a wave of fatigue, and revision was stressful and anxiety-provoking.
  • I always seemed to contract a nasty cold, which put a bit of a damper on the post-exam festivities.
  • Even when I passed an exam, I noticed that if the same material was tested a few months later, my recall was very poor, which resulted in extra revision time. 

“Now that I am much older and wiser, I realise my sleep-neglect strategy was counterproductive.”

Here are the benefits of sleep during exam season: 

Sleep allows us to concentrate and think faster

If I had protected time for sleep, I could have focused more effectively. If you sleep less than the recommended 7+ hours for adults or eight.

With GCSEs and A-Levels well underway, leading sleep expert Dr Sophie Bostock from Bensons for Beds has shared her tips to set parents and teenagers up for revision success.

As well as revealing why a nap may be the hack to retaining more information, Dr Bostock also shares:

  • How synaptic pruning during sleep helps us to free up our brain capacity.
  • Why you should tactically factor sleep into your revision schedule.
  • Plus, more tips to maximise sleep during exam season.

10 hours for teenagers, you build up a sleep debt.

With every night of short sleep, lapses in attention increase; just 10 nights with six hours of sleep have a similar effect on your reaction time as 24 hours without sleep; you respond similarly to someone with a blood alcohol concentration over the drunk driving limit.

Sleep consolidates important memories

During sleep, new memories are strengthened. The brain prioritises memories with strong emotional meaning or those associated with rewards.

In other words, you’re less likely to remember things that you think are boring! Replaying experiences during REM sleep may be one of the ways that we strengthen the electrical memory signatures.

Sleep helps us forget so that we can learn again tomorrow

New memories are initially stored in the hippocampus, the brain’s working memory centre. The hippocampus only has limited storage capacity. Neurons communicate via connections called synapses.

During sleep, a process of ‘synaptic pruning’ or re-setting takes place as we crop the less important connections and strengthen those which are important. This frees up more capacity to learn the next day. Studies in mice have found that the brain’s synapses shrink by up to 20% during sleep.

Sleep eases worry

One of the most important functions of sleep during exam season is to rebalance emotions. If you deliberately compress your sleep, your brain is more likely to go into ‘fight or flight’ mode. You will stay on high alert, making it harder to get a restful night’s sleep

Sleep loss makes you feel even more anxious and stressed. This can fuel a cycle of overworking and lack of sleep since you constantly worry about not doing enough.

Cramming vs napping and how to get the sleep/study balance right during exam season

So, with all this in mind, is there a better way to revise than the mad cram-anxiety cycle?

In one study, volunteer students were taught about crabs and spiders for eighty minutes. They were split into one of three groups for an hour: Cramming (re-reading the presented material), taking a nap, or taking a break (watching videos on YouTube).

Teaching continued for a second 80-minute session. Students were tested at the end of the same day to see how much they could remember, and one week later.

The napping and cramming groups scored more highly on the same day than those with a break. One week later, only the napping group had retained more information than the group that rested, suggesting that a nap on the day of learning could help to consolidate memories and free up more capacity to learn.

Tips for sleeping during exam season

Build sleep into your schedule to avoid a sleep debt

Treat sleep like any other critical revision element during exam season; plan for it. Teenagers need 8–10 hours, and adults need at least seven hours to optimise learning and memory.

Take regular breaks

It takes energy to focus. We make fewer mistakes and concentrate more easily with regular breaks, at least every two hours, preferably more often. To make the most of breaks, get the body moving and get some natural daylight to boost alertness.

Use caffeine strategically

Hopefully, if you make time for sleep and take breaks, you will be less reliant on caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant, so if you’re stressed or anxious, it can amplify these feelings.

Even caffeine consumed six hours before bedtime can interfere with the quality of your sleep, so use it in moderation and avoid caffeinated hot drinks and soft drinks after 2pm.  

Do you need a nap?

If you struggle to keep your eyes open, a short nap in the early afternoon can help refresh your alertness, mood, and learning capacity. If you nap for under half an hour, you should avoid sleep inertia, the groggy feeling when you wake up from deep sleep.

Most people find it easiest to nap between 1 pm and 3 pm. If you struggle to nap, a quiet rest period can still reduce your stress levels and give you a more positive mindset for learning.

Wind down before bed

During exam season, you’ll inevitably have a lot on your mind, so sleep won’t always come easy. If your brain is busy all day, you may need extra time to wind down before bed. Stop working 30 minutes before bed, preferably at least an hour before bed.

Do something relaxing that you enjoy, such as a bath, listening to music, or reading a book, before you climb into bed, and only get into bed when you’re sleepy.

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