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Sleep Experts' Advice to Students About Cramming - Go to Bed

Sleep expert David Earnest often tells colleges students that a good night’s sleep is important for academic success.
Not that they listen to him.

Earnest, a professor at Texas A&M University’s College of Medicine, says staying awake all night studying instead of sleeping doesn’t work and isn't healthy.

“The sort of common approach for college students…is to sort of wait until the last minute in terms of preparing or studying for an exam,” Earnest explains. “Because that way, you can cram all of your studying into a very short period of time.”

This academic strategy doesn’t really work, he says. “Unfortunately, it’s counterproductive.”

Research shows that people who stay up all night do not remember as much about what they read or studied. There is also some evidence that people even suffer temporary drops in their IQ ((intelligence quotient)), he said.

A 2014 report for the U.S. National Library of Medicine - part of the National Institutes of Health - reported that daytime sleepiness and irregular sleep schedules are common among college students.

The report said a lack of sleep can result in lower grade point averages. The research also found sleep deprivation can lead to increased risk of academic failure and emotional distress.

Recently, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that sleep helps improve brain performance by shrinking synapses, the area where cells transmit messages to other cells, thereby allowing us to wake up refreshed and ready to fill synapses with new information.

Company uses device to measure student sleep

Technology firm Jawbone manufactures a device that measures exercise and sleep. The company collected information from college-age device users to measure how much time they spent sleeping.

It found that college students slept an average of 7.03 hours during the week and 7.38 hours on weekends. Female students slept more than male students, getting an extra 23 minutes of sleep on weeknights and 17 more minutes on weekends.

Jawbone’s study seemed to suggest that college students were getting enough sleep. The time falls into recommendations by the National Sleep Foundation: seven to nine hours of sleep daily for people between the ages of 18 and 25.

Jawbone, however, said the average is misleading. Its study found that nearly half the time, students slept fewer than seven hours a night.

Earnest of Texas A&M said it is not uncommon for students to sleep 12 or 14 hours one day, after sleeping for little or no time the day before as they cram for tests.

Students at U.S. military academies such as West Point, the Naval Academy and Coast Guard Academy require students to rise before 7 a.m. That is the earliest required waking time for college students.

As a result, students at the three schools averaged 6.38 hours of sleep, the lowest among U.S. college students.

Other colleges where students average fewer than seven hours of sleep on weeknights include Columbia University in New York, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, according to the study.

Students at the University of New Hampshire, the University of Oregon and the University of San Diego had the most sleep, Jawbone said.

The National Sleep Foundation offers suggestions for better sleep.

- Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time in the morning. Make sure your bedroom is a quiet, dark, and relaxing environment, and is not too hot or too cold.

- Have a comfortable bed, and do not use it to read, watch television or listen to music.

- Remove all TVs, computers, radios, and telephones from the bedroom: this is nearly impossible for shared dorm rooms.

- Avoid large meals before bedtime.

For die-hard crammers, Earnest suggests studying until 2 a.m., sleeping for four hours, and reviewing the material early in the morning.

Four hours is not enough sleep, but is better than none, he advised.

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