Sleep Trumps All-Night Cramming for College Exams

THURSDAY, Nov. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Pulling all-night study sessions to prepare for exams may work against college students, an expert cautions.

Instead, students should study throughout the semester; schedule study sessions in the evening around 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., when their levels of alertness and concentration are highest; and get at least eight hours of sleep the night before an exam, according to Dr. Philip Alapat, medical director of the Harris Health Sleep Disorders Center, and an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston.

Avoid studying in the early afternoon -- usually the time of least alertness -- and don't overuse caffeinated beverages, Alapat added.

"Memory recall and ability to maintain concentration are much improved when an individual is rested," Alapat said in a Harris news release. "By preparing early and being able to better recall what you have studied, your ability to perform well on exams is increased."

College students should get eight to nine hours of sleep a night, but most of them generally get much less.

"Any prolonged sleep deprivation will affect your mood, energy level and ability to focus, concentrate and learn, which directly affects your academic performance," Alapat explained.

A general lack of sleep combined with the occasional all-nighter and drinking caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea or energy drinks puts students at risk for developing insomnia, and for alcohol abuse and traffic crashes.

"A lot of college students graduate high school and leave the protective family environment where they have curfews or set bedtimes," Alapat said. "In college, they don't have these guidelines for sleep and recognize that they can stay up late. This likely contributes to the sleep deprivation seen commonly in college students."

He noted that chronic sleep deprivation may contribute to the development of conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Anyone who experiences bouts of chronic sleep deprivation or nightly insomnia that lasts for more than a few weeks should consult a sleep specialist, Alapat suggested.

-- Robert Preidt

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SOURCE: Harris Health System, news release, Nov. 21, 2012