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Is sleep the secret to exam success?

Whether still at school or already in higher education, students around the country are preparing for exam season, and for many this means studying until the very last minute. But is this extra revision, at the expense of their sleep, actually doing more harm than good?


Psychologists have argued that sleep is the most neglected factor when it comes to exam preparation, and the repercussions for both mental and physiological states can be severe. Increased irritability, additional anxiety – even deep depression – can all kick in with lack of sleep. And at a time when nerves are already on edge, this can have a marked effect on performance.


It’s recommended that teenagers get eight to ten hours of sleep a night, but many are getting by on just five or six. According to the UK Sleep Council, 80% of students said that their sleep was disturbed in the month prior to their exams. As a result, the time they’re spending in deep sleep is reduced – known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM), this is the part of our sleep cycle where the brain processes information from the day and memories are stored. It’s no wonder then that there’s such a strong link between sleep and exam success.


One study incentivised a group of college students in the US to sleep an average of at least eight hours a night in the week of their final exams. Their sleep patterns were tracked using a wristband, and those students who managed to meet the sleep target achieved grades that were four percentage points higher than their peers.


But it’s not just the hours that count. Researchers at Georgia State University, Harvard University and the University of California, Los Angeles, found that students who did not go to bed, or wake up, at the same time each day, were more likely to have lower grades. So even if you’re struggling to make your eight hours, experts recommend maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, including at the weekend.


To help you sleep easy this exam season, we’re sharing our top tips for better sleep in this month’s blog.

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