Studying at odd hours: Advantages and challenges
Students generally fall into one of two categories; those who study late into the night and those who wake up early to prepare. What’s less commonly known is that there are terms for both of these categories. The ones that stay up late are commonly known as night owls, while the ones who prefer wee hours of the morning are called early risers.
A popular belief is that studying late at night is harmful, propagated by the famous saying, ‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a person healthy, wealthy and wise’. However, several studies conducted on the same topic have found that there isn’t really a correlation between wealth or wisdom, and your sleep cycle. On the other hand, ‘healthy’ has been long argued, with scores of evidence on both sides.
If you’re one of the night owls, who can revise till 3am, rather than waking up at 5am, here’s what you need to know about your habits:
Advantages of being a night owl
1. Night owls show a higher ability to stay alert and concentrate
If you are already used to staying up and working till late, you will be able to study harder and for a longer duration as compared to early risers, based on a study conducted by University of Liege. Early risers can only stay alert and active for 10 hours post waking up, before they experience mental fatigue. After that, they start performing tasks at a much slower pace, as they are more sensitive to sleep pressure.
2. Better retention of information
According to a study conducted in University of Notre Dame, you tend to remember information better if you study it right before you sleep. If you revise information at night and then sleep on it, the retention of that information is superior. If a day of wakefulness follows your learning time, you might not be able to remember that information as readily. Retroactive interference has a role to play here. Basically, if you study in the morning, constant distractions and new information can make it difficult to recall what you previously learned. Because of this, the information that was previously memorised or learned will be forgotten.
3. Less exam stress
British researchers have found that early risers have higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, than those who like to sleep late.The cortisol levels of early risers continue to remain high throughout the day, not just during the morning. This means early risers are more stressed about exams than night owls. Since night owls are calmer, they can get work done more efficiently, instead of wasting time panicking.
Disadvantages of being a night owl
1. You can easily forget what you learned
According to a study conducted by Texas university, everything that you learn at odd hours is actually stored in your short term memory. This memory type doesn’t facilitate extended retention, in fact it deteriorates quickly. If you don't use the information you have studied shortly, then it disappears within a period of a few minutes to a few hours. So when you cram new chapters late at night, it doesn't allow that information to transcend from short-term to long-term memory, which is important to prepare for an exam that might be months away.
2. Your brain loses efficiency with each hour of sleep deprivation
Every hour that you stay up, you get weary and so does your brain. According to a study by Texas A&M Medical College, it was observed that studying late into the night can result in a sharp decrease in performance for specific learning and memory tasks. Our peak cognitive efficiency happens earlier in the day and by studying late night we’re fighting against our natural body clock.
3. You may have less focus at school
Irrespective of whether you are a night owl or an early riser, you need to follow a school timetable. You need to wake up at a certain time every morning and get yourself to class. School lasts an average of 6 to 7 hours a day. If you have been studying late at night, it will be difficult for you to stay awake in class. If somehow you do manage to stay awake, your brain would have reached its capacity to take in information. Your brain hasn’t had enough time to reboot, which means you won’t be able to pay attention when new concepts are taught in class. This leaves you with countless doubts and in turn makes self-study more difficult.
Whether you’re a night owl or not, one thing is clear, you need enough sleep to be able to do justice to your learning. Cramming a night before the exam isn’t advantageous, nor is slogging all day and not taking enough breaks. Spread your studies over a period of time, during the hours when your enthusiasm to learn is at its highest.
About the Author:
Manish Kumar graduated from IIT Bombay in 2006 with a degree in Metallurgical and Materials Science. He then pursued masters in Materials Science Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology, USA. Post his graduation, he joined Indian School Finance Company, where he was part of the core team responsible for business strategies and growth. In 2013, he co-founded SEED Schools, a venture focused on improving quality of low-cost K-12 education in India with a vision to make quality education accessible. He is currently Vice President of Product - Learning & Pedagogy at Toppr.com.