A recent study sounds alarm bells among psychologists, academics and parents alike: kids exposed to the blue light emitted by their electronic devices are missing out on the quantity and quality of sleep they need.
Even if the screens are dimmed or black, the chimes of incoming messages coupled with FOMO – ‘fear of missing out’ that keeps our teens glued to their devices, does as much for sleep deprivation as deliberately staying awake does.
Of course, none of these statistics is new; scientists and behaviour analysts have long been warning – some might say doomsaying against excessive use of electronic devices at bedtimes.
A bit over a half-century ago, the somewhat gruesome prediction that the telly would rot our brains prevailed. There’s a very real possibility that, so far, no superlative prediction has been found to describe what a phone or tablet will do to our grey matter.
However, science has established a few concrete facts about what a lack of sleep can do whether or not it is caused by electronic devices. They’ve also shown how being sleep deprived can negatively impact every aspect of your life from mental acuity to mental health.
In this article, your Superprof explains why getting enough sleep is vital to your exam revision efforts – and to your health.
The Science of Sleep
All day long, we are bombarded with stimuli: sights, sounds and smells; sensations from hunger to heat or the lack thereof… and that’s on top of voluntarily pouring information into our heads in school.
At night, while we sleep, our brain tidies all of the day’s input. This housekeeping goes on all night long, in stages, until things have been made sense of and the day has been packed away.
Picture your room.
On the weekend, you washed your clothes and folded them neatly but, before you could put them away, you were called to tea or to go hang out with your mates. You get home a bit late – far too late to put clothes away.
In fact, you just fall into bed, mayhap without even brushing your teeth.
The next morning, you hurry to get ready for school. Your discarded clothes end up on the floor. After classes, you have some goings-on planned; maybe meeting up again or perhaps a rigorous study session at the library.
You arrive home long after tea time, exhausted, shove some food in your mouth and you fall into bed again.
So goes the whole week. Your good intentions of keeping your room pristine – even washing and folding your clothes, have gotten lost in the week-long flurry of activity.
By the time you wake up on Saturday morning, the first day you don’t have to rush out the door before you properly wake up, you realise you can’t see your bedroom floor for all that’s been thrown on it. The rest of your space is in similar disarray.
Now, imagine that same scenario happening in your brain.
From the moment you wake up to the time you go to sleep, your brain collects… everything – enormous amounts of stuff! It needs the recommended hours of sleep, at least eight hours, to tidy up and get ready for the next onslaught.
What happens if you don’t give your brain the time it needs each night to perform its tidy-up functions?
No worries, your head won’t explode. Sleepiness aside, you will still be able to rise, learn – if only after a fashion, and conduct yourself (mostly) normally.
However, just as you can’t make heads or tails of your room when it’s a disaster, your brain goes into distress when it doesn’t get its chance to clean up, too.
Your ability to focus on your studies or remember anything will be negatively affected. Your mood too; you may even experience confusion, anxiety and/or depression – further detractors of study and another side-effect of insufficient sleep.
Cheating ourselves of sleep effectively means that our brains do not have the time to complete their sorting functions before they are assailed anew, sending us in a downward spiral where revising for exams can be, at best, haphazardly done, no matter how long we sit with opened books before us.
It would help if you made an effective revision timetable so that you don’t feel compelled to stay awake till all hours, trying to study…
The Case for Sleeping More and Better
When things reach an extreme, they can only move in the opposite direction – Chinese idiom.
There is more than a grain of truth to that saying; when a pendulum reaches the end of its arc, it has no choice but to swing the other way.
Unfortunately, our brains are not the predictable implements that bow to the laws of physics, like pendulums and just about every other object must.
Our grey cells will continue doggedly on – hanging at the end of its arc, as it were. It will continue to spin its metaphorical wheels in the hopes of overcoming information overload.
That is what happens as you continue your revision efforts without sleep.
Study after study has proven that getting less than the recommended amount of sleep leads to mental exhaustion – the point where nothing more can be assimilated, even using the most effective revision techniques.
Everyone from the medical community to entities directly involved in exams – schools, exam boards and the like make the case for getting lots of quality sleep in the run-up to your exams.
They also recommend shutting off your electronic devices – preferably leaving them in another room, clearing your head and making sure your space is a place to rest. These are all elements of good sleep hygiene.
Perhaps you could give the concept a try.
About an hour before bedtime, shut off all electronic devices; place them far away from you – in another room, perhaps.
Then, pick up a textbook or your revision notes. You might read through them, highlighting important information or simply gloss over them, picking out salient facts.
Once you feel sufficiently relaxed – or that your brain has had enough for the evening, set aside your study materials and go to bed, perhaps enjoying some light reading before dropping off.
If you’re not keen on reading for pleasure, perhaps a bit of telly would help relax you.
Of course, old habits die hard and the much-touted ‘fear of missing out’ or FOMO might compel you to switch on your device for one last look.
Try to avoid the temptation!
What Happens When You Sleep Well
Everything about you – mind, body and spirit enjoys rejuvenation when you allow yourself the needed hours of sleep per night.
You might think that, because you are at the peak of adolescence, you probably don’t need to be younger; in your case, we’ll aver that you will undergo all-over freshening.
- Your skin will clear up: when your body has sufficient downtime to process what you took in that day, it is less likely to show up in angry red blotches on your face.
- Your memory will improve: rather than sifting through random tidbits of information during waking hours, your memory will function like a well-oiled machine!
- You will feel more on an even keel: you will more correctly interpret and respond to social cues and emotional information
- Your athletic performance will astound you: speed, accuracy and reaction time all improve after a good night’s sleep.
- Your ability to focus will improve dramatically, as will your productivity and cognitive performance.
- You will be less prone to depression: those suffering chronic sleep deprivation due to insomnia and other sleep disorders report higher incidences of depression
- You will be less likely to get sick: too little sleep throws the doors wide open for any attack on your immune system that your natural defences would be too weak to fight off.
- You will find it easier to maintain a healthy weight: poor sleepers tend to eat more which leads to weight gain.
How can FOMO measure against all of this, especially when considering the exams that will determine your future are inching ever closer?
You may argue that some of the best exam revision resources can only be found online and you need your phone or tablet to access them.
We’ll concede that point; there are some fantastic websites and online resources for exam prep but they are not the only study materials available to you.
Besides, you don’t have to – indeed, you shouldn’t study till you fall asleep; as we pointed out before, exhausted, end-of-day studying is less likely to result in retention of information.
Much better that you should gain a bit of distance from notes, texts and websites alike about an hour before going to bed.
During that time, focus on yourself by taking a hot bath or listening to some music; maybe watching something on the telly and then crawling into bed with your mind clear, ready for better sleep.
Now discover more tips for how to revise…