Skip to main content Skip to bottom nav

Sleep or Study? How to Get Enough Rest Before Tests

Find out if it's better to pull an all-nighter or get sleep instead
Sleep or study

It is the night before a final exam and college kids all over campus are asking the eternal question: should I buy a bunch of energy drinks, snap on the headphones and pull an all-nighter, or am I better off going to bed at a reasonable hour but losing study time?

"So much memory consolidation happens when we sleep that performance is generally not improved with sleep deprivation," says W. Christopher Winter, MD and President of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine. Memory consolidation is an important mechanism for doing well in academically rigorous tasks. It is a process in which our brains convert short term memory into long term memory. According to a 2017 study, sleep deprivation leads to cognitive lapses, meaning staying up all night studying can contribute towards a worse grade than you would have gotten after a good night's sleep.

However, what if you've put off or simply have not found the time to cram the facts you need into your busy brain? You know you'd bomb the test without significant last-minute consumption of notes and texts. Are there ways to responsibly pull an all-nighter?

The answer is sort of.

Sleep More Before and After Your All-Nighter

If you want to stay awake and suffer less, sleep extra in the days leading up to your all-nighter if possible. Getting appropriate rest ahead of time can mitigate the effects of a night without rest.

Next, prepare your environment, food, and drink:

Once you've turned in that paper, be smart the next day. Do not drive, eat healthily, and take a nap; even a 30-minute slumber can help. "These naps are great for an extra boost of energy and make us feel more alert," says The American Sleep Association. If you have more available time in your day, "sleeping for ninety minutes or more puts us through the whole sleep cycle, light and deep sleep, including rapid eye movement."

Keep Your Sleep Habits in Check

After you've recovered from your Night Of No Sleep, keep an eye on your overall sleep habits. Dr. Winter says, "Seven to nine hours is recommended for college students," but stresses that everyone is different. Not surprisingly, consolidated sleep is more beneficial than incremental sleep. "Think of sleep like a concert. If Coldplay kept stopping during their songs and taking breaks, while they may have technically played every note, the breaks would disrupt the necessary flow. Sleep is similar."

Avoid all-nighters when you can, but know that a seemingly endless night will not kill you. Just check that you are getting enough sleep overall so you can avoid the risks of chronic sleep deprivation.

For more student support, join our empathetic community, chat with a free, trained listener, or start affordable online therapy today.


Posted: 01 August 2019
Share Tweet

Angie McCullagh

Angie is a Seattle writer who hopes to have a small part in erasing stigmas associated with mental health issues.

Other Articles Articles by Angie McCullagh

Manage Your Stress to Live a Better Life

How chronic stress affects your body and mind and what to do about it
Posted 12 August 2019

Sleep or Study? How to Get Enough Rest Before Tests

Find out if it's better to pull an all-nighter or get sleep instead
Posted 01 August 2019

20 More Positive Affirmations That Will Help You Love Yourself

20 More Positive Affirmations That Will Help You Love Yourself
Posted 01 August 2019

Related Articles

5 Crucial Factors That Influence Studying During a Pandemic

Easy tips to improve your study style amidst a stressful pandemic
Posted 17 January 2022

How to Set Boundaries With Good Friends

Exploring the 5 major boundaries and ways to maintain them
Posted 16 January 2022

Self-Care for Students

Finding the right work-life balance for maximum academic success and well-being
Posted 12 September 2019