August 19, 2011
Are you an owl, a lark, or a hummingbird? These birds are one of the ways some scientists categorize our natural sleep habits and knowing the answer to that question may be a very important component of learning success.
It has been proven in numerous scientific studies that lack of sleep can have a negative effect on the ability to learn, reason, and even to perform routine motor functions. In fact, most students have been given information about the dangers of “drowsy driving.” This blog post will hopefully give you some helpful information about the dangers of “drowsy learning.” A series of studies conducted by Buboltz, Brown, and Soper found that about 75% of college students report at least occasional sleep problems and that about 15% report more severe sleep deprivation. This is about twice the level of sleep deprivation found among the general population of adults.
Part of the issue for students getting enough sleep has to do with our chronotypes. If you are much more alert very late in the evening, you may be classified as a late chronotype or “Owl.” Early chronotypes or “Larks” on the other hand are those among us who feel more alert early in the morning. The rest of us are probably best classified as “Hummingbirds” who may fall somewhere on the continuum between Owl and Lark, but are not at the extremes. Several studies have found that early chronotypes are more successful students. Perhaps this is not surprising. Most college classes occur early in the day and most Owls and many Hummingbirds are much less alert at that time of day. If possible, students should consider how study times or class schedules could be arranged to take advantage of the times of day when they are most alert.
Regardless of your chronotype, it is important to get enough sleep. For most college students, that means getting approximately 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. However, it is not at all uncommon for students to get in the habit of staying up until 2 or 3am even when they have classes which begin at 8 or 9am. The result is fatigue which makes it very diffiicult to learn. Even worse is the temptation to pull “all-nighters.” The brain needs sleep for a number of reasons and one of the most important ones is the process of consolidation information. When you try to study all night, you will not only be very tired and have slower processing, you will miss out on the very thing the brain needs to learn. One of the best things you can do when you have a test in the morning is close your books and notes and get a good’s night’s sleep. Even if you feel like you need to study a few more hours, the sleep you get will be much more valuable to your success than the few things you might try to learn through the wee hours of the night.
John Medina who wrote the book “Brain Rules” states is succinctly: “Sleep well, think well.” Getting to sleep is perhaps one of the easiest “study strategies” I can suggest. For most students it is just a matter of time management and planning. Give yourself enough time and be disciplined about getting to bed at a reasonable time to allow adequate sleep. Some students may have difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep. If this is a chronic issue, it would be advisable to consult your doctor or a counselor to find out if there are physical or emotional issues that are leading to poor sleep patterns. Regardless, all students need to make an effort to get adequate sleep and allow your body and brain to rest and recuperate.