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We’ve all been there: the anxiety kicks in the day prior to a rather frightening examination. And now you’re asking yourself, should I sleep or study all night?

Perhaps it isn’t even a particularly threatening exam, but you simply feel obliged to cram in the facts.

However, this is not necessarily the way to go. Further into this article, I’ll soon show you this with a brief story of my experience.

Staying up late and studying is, in fact, the perfect recipe for academic failure.

Learn fast — tiredness not included: Are You Ill-Prepared for Exams? Read This Quickly

Is it better to sleep or study all night? The sleep procrastination depression cycle shows why late nights are bad.

Working Late is Not Creating Time

Even if you understand this to be true, you may nonetheless instinctively deny this critical law.

For instance, a while back, I found myself in a night-before revision situation.

Looming the following day, the exam involved a particularly difficult subject to study. Great! All I had was a convenient little booklet of knowledge;

No active recall, nor any spatial repetition.

Indeed, I could have made some flashcards or used the spreadsheet revision method. Unfortunately, though, this would have taken more time than it was worth.

After all, as I have already outlined, a lot of the best revision techniques don’t apply a last-minute strategy.

So, what did I decide to do? Stay awake past my bedtime and study or maintain the rhythm of early nights?

Here was my reasoning:

  • Firstly, the exam occurred in the morning, so I would have little time to prepare the following day
  • Secondly, there were many concrete facts that I could have needed to succeed in the exam
  • Feeling refreshed and awake was not going to help me magically summon those unknown facts

Therefore, I made the judgement that I should shorten my sleep slightly. As a result, I had the knowledge to stand a better chance in the looming examination.

Can you relate to this experience?

Three Hours Less Sleep is Nine Hours Less Work

Although, this was a compromise that I had made: I gave myself enough time to briefly summarise the exam content and not much more.

Accordingly, my bedtime was late, albeit not incredibly late — merely an hour or two later than ideal; Certainly, I could not claim to have studied all night, orhave pulled an “all-nighter”.

On the hand, my sleep debt wouldn’t have been helped by the exam struggles of the prior week.

If you have not already done so, I invite you to learn about the dangers of sleep deprivation on your mental performance. Not only will the immense fatigue drain your attention, but it will shatter your willpower.

The effects of sleep deprivation on your performance, ironically, outweighs the benefit of extra time awake.

So, what happened to me?

While I do not think I did terribly in the exam I was preparing for, it obviously was not my proudest day! That being said, my ability to recall facts would have been improved had I chosen to sleep not study.

Also, despite being the day, my drive to use the time in the morning to study was virtually non-existent.

What’s more, the time I had after having completed the exam I did not use wisely for much revision.

“Oh, yes, the even more important exams that occurred that week!”

Why sleep creates time: How to Sleep Easily for More Happiness and Better Focus

Surrender Your Work to the Morning Ahead

Let it be, have faith, and surrender late night study for a good night's sleep.

Had I slept well, perhaps then I would have felt the need to study in the morning rather than at night.

Before the day of the exam, you have a choice: you could sleep well or study all night.

Moreover, this is virtually equivalent to saying:

On one hand, you could rest and delay further study for the morning. Alternatively, you could do all last-minute preparation now, consequently removing the opportunity to revise effectively in the morning.

Above all, when you sleep well, you can better use the following morning to rapidly absorb facts. As an added bonus, this means the information in fresher in your head when you do the exam.

However, with tiredness weighing down your shoulders, it’s fair to say you’ll be struggling to crack out some further morning revision:

  • Demotivation
  • Depleted mental alertness
  • A disorderly muddle of thoughts polluting your brain (because it hasn’t had the time to “clean up”)

Yes, you will be tempted to study late, but don’t procrastinate on sleep! Summon the final ounce of willpower you have, and spend it on delaying your revision until the next morning;

By then, you would have properly regained all awareness, willpower, and thinking power.

You Are Responsible for Everything

Let’s face it: most situations whereby you would consider sacrificing sleep to study all night are your problem.

In other words, it is most likely your procrastination, laziness or disorganisation that lead to your lack of preparedness.

So, don’t try to use examinations, homework assignments or whatnots as an excuse for your sleep deprivation; you are ultimately responsible, despite your best intentions.

Make a Sacrifice: The Better Sacrifice of Two

A sacrifice of studying late or sleep must be made the night before an exam.

As a consequence, your unpreparedness means you have to make an inescapable sacrifice — one of two:

  1. Extra preparation for the next day and sleep deprivation
  2. A top-notch mental state but perhaps slightly less preparation for the upcoming exam

Notice, though, that sacrifice 1 has a hidden disadvantage: while you may do better in the next day’s exam, the same could not be said of subsequent exams.

Have you stopped to consider the future exams? That the next day’s exam is not the only exam? (Of course, this may not always be the case, especially in with informal tests.)

If you choose the path of sleep deprivation, you will inevitably suffer when preparing for other exams; the knowledge does not go in as effectively, and you lack any motivation.

Sacrificing performance in one exam for success in five others is definitely the way to go. Otherwise, you may do all right in one exam but perform unsatisfactorily in five others.

Sometimes, you must bite the risky biscuit and accept the pain.

After all, you probably would not fail — as long as you’ve been paying attention for all those years you’ve been studying the course.

And remember, you can always use the time in the morning to cram in some extra facts; because, then, you’ll be truly refreshed.

Surrender your revision: How to Stop Getting Carried Away in a Task and Delay It

Conclusion: Sleep or Study All Night?

Is it better to stay up late to study or sleep?

What an absurd question! Never do anything “all night” — other than sleep!

Very rarely would the benefits outweigh the compounding effects of sleep deprivation. Let us also remember that this situation has been caused by the larger problem of procrastination anyway.

Should I have sacrificed my performance in that exam in order to allow guaranteed high-performance in the subsequent exams? I don’t know.

You can’t know the future, but you can make the best decision based on all currently known facts.

My Book Recommendation of The Week

Of course, I couldn’t talk about sleep without mentioning the phenomenal book that I adore:

Night School: The Life-Changing Science of Sleep by Richard Wiseman

Night School: The Life-Changing Science of Sleep

Through a plethora of rock-solid research, Richard Wiseman shows you why sleep is essential in addition to how you can go about taking the most advantage of it.

Now, I’d like to hear your experiences in the comment section:

Before an exam, would you sleep well or stay up to study all night?

* * *

Questions? Thoughts? Suggestions? Please leave your ideas in the comments below!

Thank you for learning at Cryptic Butter!

Should You Sleep or Study All Night? You'll Hate the Truth
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Should You Sleep or Study All Night? You'll Hate the Truth
I know your pain: it can be tempting to sacrifice your sleep for exam preparation. After all, it’s just a “one-off”, isn’t it? When you have a choice (sleep or study all night), don’t make the wrong decision!
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Cryptic Butter
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Posted by Luis Thiam-Nye

If you want to learn how to use technology to increase your productivity, you should visit Cryptic Butter! I also have a GitHub project.

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