Students around the world are notorious for pulling all night study sessions, and sleeping on an irregular schedule. However, a new study by Boston College comparing sleep patterns of students in 50 countries reports some surprising findings. For example, Japanese students have some of the lowest rates of sleep deprivation, while their peers in the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and even high-performing Finland suffer from a severe lack of sleep.
Lack of sleep was found to be a significant factor in students’ low achievement in school. Another report even cites that students who sleep longer tend to have higher overall GPAs.
How does it work?
New memories are formed in the brain when we engage with information—like attending a class, or reading a book. These new memories, however, are quite vulnerable in the beginning. We need to improve these memories to make them stick. Notes, flashcards, and mindmaps are one great way to engage with material, but research has shown that time spent sleeping also plays a crucial role in preserving these memories. In other words, sleep is just as important as studying in remembering material for your courses.
Tips to improve memory, retention, and grades
1. Set a regular schedule and stick to it
Waking up, and going to sleep at different times each day can really mess with your body’s circadian rhythms. When planning your course schedule, try to select your first class with a relatively similar start time for each day of the week. Don’t forget to also plan your study times so that you can also go to sleep at a similar time each night. Your body works best on a schedule, so try to stick to it at least through the weekdays.
2. Don’t text or answer phone calls while sleeping
Research has shown that waking up to respond to phone calls or text messages can degrade your quality of sleep. Let your friends and family know about your sleep routine, and mute your phone while you’re sleeping.
3. Turn off your computer monitor and cell phone screen while sleeping
The light from your computer and/or cell phone screen can also impair your sleep cycle. Your body may be confused by the bright light, and your circadian rhythms will be out of cycle. Don’t forget to shut off luminous devices before your shut your eyes.
4. Leave enough time to study—don’t pull all-nighters
If you procrastinate on studying, you will find yourself nearing final exams with an entire semester of information to absorb. By planning your schedule and sticking with study sessions you will be more relaxed, and less prone to all night cramming sessions, which are harmfull for your mind, and body.
5. Take short power naps throughout the day
If you find yourself getting less than 8 hours of sleep per night, consider power napping. Take a nap in the library between classes, or go back to your room for a quick sleep. Keep the nap between 15-30 minutes for optimal effects.
 Lund HG, et al.
Sleep patterns and predictors of disturbed sleep in a large population of college students.
J Adolesc Health online, 2009.