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How Sleep Can Impact Your Academic Performance
  • 30 Nov 2023
  • Mental Health

Med student Revising

Everyone has experienced the feeling of rolling out of bed after a late night, trying to start the day on the right foot, yet your brain is still waiting for the alarm to go off. You’re awake, but you cannot concentrate and every task you normally fly through feels laboured; as if you’re trying to crack the Da Vinci code.

Well, the reason for this isn’t due to someone wiping your memory in the night, this feeling of sluggishness (as you may have expected) comes from a lack of, or poor quality, sleep. Dr. Matthew Walker, an esteemed neuroscientist describes sleeping as, “an investment in tomorrow” detailing the importance of ensuring you're well rested. So, when you think you’re doing yourself a favour by staying up all night cramming for that exam, to put it simply, you’re not.

An example of how sleep impacts cognitive function and memory is exemplified by Matthew Walker as he describes how sleep impacts motor skill learning. He states, “Practice does not make perfect, practice with a night of sleep is what makes perfect, as when you come back the next day, you’re 20-30% better in your skilled performance than you were at the end of your last practice session”. This comes because of your brain carving neural pathways as you sleep, building mental schemas of the activities or actions completed from the day before, highlighting those topics you somehow “just knew” after briefly reading your notes, may have been cemented in your memory through a good night’s sleep.

Although we’ve already spoken on the importance of sleep in our article, 5 Ways to Clear the Mind and Regain Focus, we wanted to share a dedicated article detailing how your sleep can be as useful to your exam preparation as revision.

5 tips to improve your sleep.

1. Consistency: Matthew Walker detailed sleep does not work like a bank. You cannot generate a large debt of sleep cramming in the weeks before your exam and expect to pay it off with a good night’s rest before exam day, you must be consistent with your sleep schedule. By remaining consistent with your daily schedule, you can improve your quality of sleep, the explanation for this is circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are also known as “the sleep-wake cycle”, according to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, explain, “circadian rhythms prepare your body for expected changes in the environment for example, the peak times for activity, when to eat and as expected, when to sleep, allowing your body to naturally understand when it’s time to wind down, and get to bed, allowing you to get them vital 7 hours every night.

2. Sleep environment: The sleep environment further supports the circadian rhythms. When going to bed, you should ensure you’re in a dark room, which is quiet and at a comfortable temperature to ensure you receive the best rest possible for a busy day.

3. Remove blue light: Electronic devices such as TVs, Phones, and laptops all produce blue light. Blue light is problematic for sleep as it reduces the secretion of melatonin (The sleep hormone). As a result of the impact of blue light, multiple sources recommend leaving electronics around 30 minutes before bed. So put down those screens, and if you really want to study, try using flash cards or written notes to allow your body to have the time it needs away from screens to wind down.

4. Avoid large meals before bedtime: According to WHOOP, a wearable fitness band, out of data they collected from their users, members who reported eating close to bedtime typically reduce their average REM sleep (Rapid eye movement sleep), the most important stage of sleep cycle by 3%. Highlighting the importance of scoffing less before bed.

5. Get some exercise: Exercise can impact sleep in a variety of ways. As you can imagine, by using energy for physical activity, naturally you become more tired by the end of the day. However, Rise science suggests before bed, the heightened body temperature and heart rate may lead to a worse night's sleep, so try to finish your late-night pump at least 1.5 hours before bed or stick to light exercise and stretching such as Yoga, to ensure the raised heart rate and body temperature won’t send your body into a state of alertness, allowing you to get to sleep quickly rather than tossing and turning for a few hours.


Does Exercise Before Bed Really Affect Your Sleep? (

Does Eating Before Bed Affect Sleep? Short Answer: Yes (

What is Blue Light and How Does it Affect Sleep? - Sleep Doctor

The new science of sleep: Everything we know about how it affects your health and brain - BBC Science Focus Magazine

Matthew Walker – Joe Rogan Experience

  • 30 Nov 2023
  • Mental Health