Should I Sleep Or Study: A Breakdown Of The Science

Ah, the age old dilemma. You can work an extra two hours, or get a reasonable amount of sleep.

Which is best – should I sleep, or study?

Many of you may think: “No brainer. Studying for two extra hours improves my test scores.“

Well, I beg to differ. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Choose sleep over studying
  • Less sleep correlates to lower academic performance
    • Makes memories harder to “access”
  • If you are learning the material for the first time, studying is more important
    • Split your time in half, this way you reap benefits of sleeping, and studying.

It often helps to learn more about exactly why this is the case, so read on.

Less Sleep = Less A’s

Me on four hours of sleep…

In fact, sleeping has a quite convincing correlation on lower academic performance. It inhibits memory, specifically, the consolidation of memories.

Thus, even if you study an extra hour, you will have a significantly harder time to retrieve these facts “ingrained” into your memory.

The Library

Think of it like a library. Each memory is a book, and when the memory is consolidated, it is given a title, cover, and corresponding section in the library.

If you were searching for a memory that wasn’t fully consolidated (formed when sleep-deprived), it would be analogous to searching a library for a book without a section or title to go by. It’s tough.

I tell my friends this all the time. Whenever they ask me “should I sleep or study,” I always say “sleep!!” – it’s almost always smarter to sleep instead of studying more.

How much sleep do I need?

Doctors recommend 8-10 hours of sleep for teenagers, but this tends to vary on an individual basis.

If you feel great after 7 hours of sleep, that’s great! If you need 10+ hours of sleep to feel well rested, try to aim for that. All that matters is you having the energy to take on the day.

Exceptions

Like anything, there are exceptions to this.

If you are truly in a pickle, and you are studying a topic you have never learned before, studying is more valuable for you to form these new neural connections before the test.

If you’re in this pickle, here are some of the best ways to study.

Think back to the library analogy. If you try to find a book (a memory) which hasn’t been written yet, it would be impossible.

Likewise, the benefits of sleep cannot be reaped if you have no neural connections for your well-rested brain to access.

Split your time in half

In these situations, you have to make a compromise.

I recommend splitting your time in half: If you have an hour, study the new material for 30 minutes, and sleep for the remaining time. Then, you have these new neural connections formed, and still have some extra sleep to be able to access these connections.

Final Thoughts

I hope, by reading this article, that you think twice before pulling out the RedBull and coffee. If you can, do what’s best for your body, and rest.

By resting instead of studying, you keep your memory sharp so you can recall all of the material you’ve learned.


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