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WE are all aware of the need to study before an exam, but new research has shown that students will get maximum benefit from their revision if they get a good sleep before answering their questions.

A team from Notre Dame University in Indiana tested over 200 students who usually have six hours sleep a night. They were shown a number of words and asked to remember them in pairs. Results showed those students who went to sleep shortly after learning the pairs remembered significantly more than those who didn’t.

Speaking about the study to specialist science journal PLOS One, psychologist Jessica Payne said: “Our study confirms that sleeping directly after learning something new is beneficial for memory. This means it would be a good thing to rehearse any information you need to remember just prior to going to bed — in some sense, you may be “telling” the sleeping brain what to consolidate.”

Dr John Ball, chairperson of the Irish College of General Practitioners, says that getting enough sleep is a vital tool in helping teenagers to get better exam results.

“The average 16 year old needs around eight and a half hours sleep a night as fatigue reduces conentration, and if they don’t get enough sleep they will not be able to do themselves justice in an exam the following day.

“If the resting period is undisturbed and long enough, the body will go through different phases of sleep, and it is these phases that are essential for refreshing the mind and body. This is why having naps isn’t ideal as it takes 30 to 40 minutes to get into “deep sleep”, or slow wave sleep, which is the refreshing phase. It may also disrupt your ability to sleep at night.”

With final exams just around the corner, he advises students to set a routine and try to stick to it for the duration of the examination period.

“During this time it is advisable for students to get enough sleep, eat at appropriate times, devise a study plan in advance of your exams, take study breaks and get plenty of outdoor exercise,” he says. “These are realistic goals and good habits which can be kept up for life.”

Psychologist Peadar Maxwell believes a lack of sleep can be detrimental to exam students. “On a brain level we all need sleep to process the new information and learning we have been exposed to during our waking day,” he says. “We use that ‘rest and digest’ period to get recently learnt information into long-term memory so that it can be reproduced at another time.

“The psychological effects of sleep deprivation can affect an individual on cognitive and emotional levels. Some of the effects are subtle, affecting the person emotionally or their ability to perform mental tasks – such as irritability and general moodiness or concentration, memory, and creativity.”

Other symptoms include: slower response time — taking longer to read and write; reduced short-term memory; impaired judge-ment and lethargy.


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