The sleep after a day’s worth of work is just as important as the day of learning itself. It’s where the consolidation of all types of memory occurs so that the day’s learning can stay in the brain and serve its purpose later on.
When we become sleep deprived, it’s harder for us to retain and recall memories. For this reason, memories are not as readily absorbed and retained.
If we break the memory down into three main stages; acquisition, consolidation, and recall; we can look into each section separately.
First, one acquires new information (acquisition). New connections are formed between the information and things one already knows. (Hence the learning technique of object association!) Next, the information remains in storage until it is needed. Within this second stage, the memory is stabilized and can be thought of as part of the encoding process. Finally, the information is retrieved. Also known as recall, it is the re-accessing of information from the past.
The second stage is what occurs during the sleep sections of our day and thus sleep is vital in our brains being able to consolidate information and recall it during future occasions. The typical article then goes on to drill on about how important it is to be obtaining an average of seven hours of sleep a night (because too many hours can also lead to a poor quality of sleep), but we’re here to say that we understand being a student and managing a decent number of hours of sleep can be tricky. A good quality sleep can also be hard - particularly if you’re struggling through a period of stress.
What’s important for you at this stage is to try and get the hours of sleep in through whichever form possible. For some that will be an afternoon nap and a few hours of sleep at night. For others it may be to work through the night and sleep during the day. Or perhaps to sleep from 10pm to 5am, then wake up and work. Memory consolidation has to occur at some point so you need to ensure to give your brain that time at some point or another.
There are other factors which you can try to control to ensure that your sleeps are of the highest quality possible. Personally I like to give my phone up during the day so to ensure that I’m spending my day in the most effective manner. It often meant that during the days of revision, when I needed a five minute break I’d end up just closing my eyes and having a power nap rather than scrolling through Instagram and clogging up my brain with useless information. I learnt what a half an hour nap truly was and how effective they could be as I didn’t have to do the compulsory 20 minute social media scroll before and after sleeping.
Also I’ve had to give up on the mugs of caffeine - partially by force, since all my exam seasons have fallen into the month of Ramadan. You’ll be surprised at how well you can still work. It’s because the sleep suddenly becomes much more energy boosting since the quality was increased with no caffeine affecting it.
That meant when I was awake, I was suffering a little from withdrawal symptoms but my adrenaline, good quality sleep and mini naps typically kept me going just as well during the day. I’m not suggesting you have to completely give up caffeine but limit it to one or two during the early part of the day or during the hours you know you definitely won’t be sleeping or having a nap.
Other than that, do the usual to look after yourself. Eat well, exercise as regularly as you can, limit the anxiety and whenever possible, schedule stressful or demanding tasks early in the day and less challenging activities later. Know that sleeping is a good form of productivity and self care.