How To Optimize Sleep For Studying

3 Simple Tips to Help You Study Smarter, Not Harder.

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Student girl with glasses yawning and covering wide open mouth with hand. Sleepy expression on blue background
Luis Molinero/

Finals season is here, which means lots and lots of studying. During this time, it isn’t uncommon to search for more efficient methods of studying and retaining information. While there are plenty of effective study tricks you can employ, perhaps the easiest one of all is simply to sleep. You read that right. You can use the power of rest to give both your concentration and memory capabilities a boost.

So, just how can catching Z’s make you a study-time pro?

To answer that question, it’s important to first understand a little about the brain and how memory works.

The Brain, Memory, and Sleep

A complex structure of the brain heavily involved with memory and learning is the hippocampus. Experts believe this region of the brain helps consolidate memory, or helps turn short-term memories into long-term ones. While it isn’t known 100% how the hippocampus affects memory, there are several theories.

One such theory states that sleep may free up limited hippocampus storage space, making room for new information. How does that work? Well, this theory implies that this part of the brain can store short-term memories. It can’t, however, store an infinite amount of memories. That means, according to this theory, having a “full” hippocampus reduces storage space for new memories. So, to learn new information effectively, it’s important to “free up” space for new information. The best way to do that? Consolidating memories.

Just how do these short-term memories consolidate to form long-term memories? Some experts believe that the hippocampus frees up storage space by transferring short-term memories to other parts of the brain for long-term storage. When this happens, the hippocampus has lots of free space—aka, more space for information from studying. Notably, research suggests that sleep can play an important role in this information transfer and memory consolidation.

Tip#1 : Nap Before Studying

Based on this theory, what’s one possible solution for improved studying? Napping, of course! A quick nap before studying may free up valuable space in the brain, meaning there’s more space to retain and process new information. Better yet, research also shows that a brief nap may even give your concentration a boost, making napping a win-win study trick.

Tip #2: Study Before Sleeping

Not a fan of naps? That isn’t a problem; you can still optimize your sleep for studying. Instead of resting right before studying, try studying right before you rest. Namely, study before you fall asleep at night. Why? Because research shows that sleeping right after learning something new can drastically improve memory retention. In other words, you may be more likely to remember information if you study it right before you go to bed.

Tip #3: Consistently Prioritize Sleep

Prioritizing sleep all the time can also help you be a more effective student. There’s no shortage of research that links sleep deprivation to decreased cognitive performance, including faulty memory recall. Most notably, though, both short-term and long-term sleep deprivation can make you feel mentally foggy, stressed, and less likely to make good decisions—all conditions that make studying and test-taking more difficult.

So, when all is said and done, research says that the most effective study trick might just be getting some shut-eye.

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