By Anju Miura

 

Midterm season is upon us: the time of year when we begin to test how much procrastination we can realistically pull off.

Many students struggle to figure out the best way to prepare the day before their exams. We drink endless cups of coffee and spend the night before cramming, but we might be better off closing the books and just going to bed.

As with Boston University’s requirement for students to complete AlcoholEdu and now a sexual assault course before their arrival on campus, Harvard University has started an online course about sleep for all incoming freshmen called “Sleep 101.”

But what else do we really need to know about sleep? Here are a few important reasons to put sleep above a middle of the night cram session.

Sleep helps you memorize

Human memory is quite inefficient, with 40 percent of new material being lost within the first 20 minutes of studying, but the process of memory consolidation helps prevent this loss. Memory consolidation is essentially the process in which the brain memorizes new information.  

Importantly, one of the major supporters of memory consolidation is sleep.

During memory consolidation, newly acquired information is transferred from the short-term memory to the long-term memory, so we can recall the information that we need.

Different types of memories lead to different types of sleep

Sleep consists of five stages, and these different stages help to retain different types of memories.

The declarative memory stage includes facts, concepts and formulas that we need in order to perform well on exams. Slow-wave sleep, the third stage of the sleep cycle, is strongly thought by neuroscientists to sustain long-term memory development.

The deepest level of sleep, REM, develops the procedural memory, such as driving a car or playing a musical instrument.

 

Making sure to get a full night’s sleep is vital to developing each of these memory sectors. And while preparing for an exam with flashcards and notes is important, sleep is what sets the mold.

What is the ideal sleep?

Teenagers on average should be getting 8–10 hours of sleep, and young adults should be getting 7–9, according to the National Sleep Foundation. A Huffington Post article says that approximately 30 percent of adults and 66 percent of adolescents are regularly sleep deprived.

Some might think of sleep as lost time, with most people spending a third of their life in bed.

However, sleep is crucial for bettering your life while you are awake.

Following the wisdom of the phrase, “sleep on it,” sleep can help us to not forget the important information we need for exams and really just life in general. We will be able to wake up every morning with a new and improved brain and healthy body by getting the proper amount of sleep.

 

And although BU does not (yet) require a course on sleep like Harvard, it’s important to remember that it’s a self care and safety issue nonetheless.