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The eight-hour sleep challenge for better grades

The eight-hour sleep challenge for better grades

3 min read
  • Sleep
  • Study skills & exam prep

The majority of students recognise that a poor night’s sleep affects their abilities to concentrate and remember information the next day. However, when in pursuit of higher grades, students often forget the importance of sleep. They end up sacrificing this in order to stay up late and cram a few more hours of revision. But what if there were a way for schools to encourage students to get a good amount of sleep and still achieve good grades?

The eight-hour sleep challenge

A recent study aimed to investigate whether choosing to sacrifice their sleep during exam week for longer study periods was helping university students improve their grades. The researchers offered extra credits to students who slept at least 8 hours a night regularly.

The researchers found that 71% of students who opted in to the eight-hour sleep challenge got the required amount of sleep. They also found that students who completed the challenge outperformed those who did not take part (even when the extra credit marks weren’t taken into account)…

How much sleep is enough?

This study showed that sacrificing sleep for revision is a poor strategy. However, it is important to remember that this study was conducted amongst university students for whom the optimum amount of sleep is 7-9 hours, whereas for adolescents (those taking exams at school) the recommended sleep requirement is 8-10 hours. 

One of the main reasons as to why adolescents need more sleep than adults is because their bodies are still developing, and this requires energy. As well as this, there are also differences in melatonin production (the sleep hormone) in one’s teenage years. Adults start to produce this hormone around 9pm, but production often doesn’t start in teenagers until around 1-2 hours later. This means that they often struggle to get to sleep at night and find it even more difficult to get up early in the morning.

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How to get a better night’s sleep

Even though a delay in melatonin production does make it more difficult for adolescents to fall asleep the night before an exam, there are some strategies that they can use which will help:

Avoid overthinking

It can be very tempting to lie in bed and dwell on the negative outcomes that might follow a poor exam performance. However, it is important that students avoid this, as it is likely such thoughts will induce stress and serve as a distraction from sleeping. Instead, students should try and foster more positive thoughts and focus on previous exam successes, as this can help settle any nerves and improve confidence levels.

Turn off your phone before bed

Students often spend the last few hours of their evening using their phone, as they believe it helps them to relax, and subsequently fall asleep quicker. However, this actually has the opposite effect because mobile phones emit a bright light, which reduces the production of melatonin, thus increasing the time it takes students to fall asleep.

Avoid caffeinated drinks

Students should try and avoid any drinks such as tea or coffee in the lead up to bed as these contain caffeine. Drinking caffeine increases alertness and often takes at least twenty minutes to kick in, leaving students feeling wide awake at the exact time they want to be able to sleep.

Final thought

Students often feel as though they are wasting valuable revision time when sleeping. However, this is not the case and it is important that students (and parents) keep in mind the findings from this recent study. Time spent obtaining the optimum amount of sleepis not wasted time, but instead time well spent that could prove to be the difference between a student achieving their desired grade or falling just short.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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