It’s the day of your big test and although you can feel the test time approaching fast you hit the snooze button, pull the covers over your head and doze off for a few minutes. Suddenly you wake up in a panic to discover that your five-minute nap has turned into a five-hour coma and you’ve lost your revision time. At this point you are in a state of utter despair. Don’t panic too much, according to scientists, sleeping more can help you study more effectively.

Dr Harvey Simon, editor of Harvard Health, a journal published by Harvard Medical School, says that, “Dreaming may reactivate and reorganize recently learned material which would help improve memory and boost performance.” Dr Simon explains that there is a strong correlation between sleeping and the ability to learn. He says that when you are sleeping, “the brain is hard at work, processing the events of the day. It sorts and files, makes connections, and even solves problems.” For this reason he encourages napping but warns that it “won’t make you smart or assure success, but that it can help improve your memory and solve problems”.

Brett and Kate McKay, authors of The Art of Manliness, attribute their academic success to napping. They say that, contrary to popular belief, napping is not “for the lazy and unambitious”. The McKays suggest taking a 90-minute nap before writing a test.

According to Dr Carol Malunga, principal medical officer at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, although dozing off for brief periods of time during the day is important, more emphasis should be placed on the importance of sleeping long and well enough during the night.

Based on research done by America’s National Sleep Foundation, an adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep a day – this amounts to an average of about 649 401 hours of a person’s lifetime. Going without sleep for a long period of time can lead to hallucinations, paranoia, blurred vision, slurred speech, and memory and concentration lapses. Lack of sleep also causes fatigue, irritability, forgetfulness, a shortened concentration span, increased stress, a weakened immune system, high blood pressure and depression.

Women who do not get enough sleep are prone to weight gain. Dr Malunga says that women who suffer from sleep deprivation are more likely to experience urinary problems. She adds that some cases of breast and colon cancer can be attributed to a lack of sleep.

According to BBC News, maintaining wakefulness for longer than 17 hours leads to a decrease in mental and physical performance in both men and women, which has the same effects as consuming two glasses of wine.

HealthCommunities.com suggests that sleeping disorders can lead to depression. According to the website, approximately 80% of people who suffer from depression also suffer from insomnia and onset insomnia. The website explains that, “Sleep disorders are twice as likely to cause depression and vice versa.” In some cases, however, depression can lead to an individual sleeping more than normal. This has a negative effect as too much sleep disrupts the function of insulin in the body and may lead to an increased risk of diabetes later on in life.

Dr Malunga explains that lack of sleep can also have a negative effect on a person’s emotional well-being. “You can have labile emotions. [A sleep deprived person will be] easily angered and agitated, leading to disruption of relationships,” she says.

When exams creep your way and are ready to pounce, remember that studying should not be something that you lose sleep over. Instead of pulling an all-nighter, can the Red Bull, keep calm and sleep on it, but remember to get enough studying done first.

Photo: Reinhard Nell

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