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Best Tip for Final Exams: Get Some Sleep!

By Dr. Brenda Gorman, CCC-SLP, Lingua Health Advisory Clinical Director and Marquette University Assistant Professor, College of Health Sciences Speech Pathology and Audiology

Dr. Brenda Gorman, CCC-SLP

Dr. Brenda Gorman, CCC-SLP

Students in universities across the country are finishing up their courses for the semester. Congratulations! Winter vacation is right around the corner, but first come finals!

Each time I give an exam, I hear one or two students talking about how they had to pull an all-nighter. It is probably the only time professors don’t mind if students come to class in their pajamas. We remember those days all too well.

But you may want to reconsider those all-nighters. Not only do you run the risk of falling asleep during the final exam (this happened to a friend of mine, who then failed and had to retake the course!), or walking into the wrong classroom and taking the wrong exam (okay, I don’t know anyone who did that, although you never know), but you may very well perform worse on the exam than had you slept well.

Scullin, McDaniel, Howard, and Kudelka1 summarize research which indicates that sleep helps stabilize memories and benefits our learning, because we replay learned information during slow-wave sleep. Their research indicates that sleep helps college students retain and integrate information to solve test problems. In Communication Sciences and Disorders, exam questions often require that students integrate content and concepts from multiple sources, because that’s what SLPs routinely have to do to make clinical decisions.

Both teens and college students often have erratic sleep schedules, and many do not get sufficient sleep. Interestingly, the Centers for Disease Control2 report that sleep insufficiency is higher in certain parts of the country, such as in several southern states. We’re looking pretty good here in Wisconsin (perhaps because we hibernate here in the winter!).

What is sufficient sleep? Well, experts do not think there is a magic number for everyone. They do, however, indicate that the average teen needs 8.5-9.25 hours and the average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Many college students, however, have erratic sleep schedules, sleeping few hours one night, and like a preschooler (11-13 hours), toddler (12-14 hours), infant (14-15 hours), or even newborn (12-18 hours) the next night. Does that sound like you? As clinicians, we sometimes have to inquire about our clients’ sleep schedules and recommend more sleep in order to enhance their overall functioning. Remember that healthy sleep habits are important for you too!

To promote healthy, restorative sleep, the National Sleep Foundation3 shares several recommendations including:

  • Consistent sleep and wake schedules
  • Regular, relaxing bedtime routines
  • No eating before bedtime
  • No caffeine close to bedtime
  • Regular exercise during the daytime or several hours before bedtime

So, remember the importance of sleep to your optimal exam performance. Study hard during the day, try to sleep well at night, best of luck on your finals, and then enjoy a well-deserved winter break!

1 http://www.journalsleep.org/Resources/Documents/2011abstractsupplement.pdf

2 http://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.htm

3 http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need

 

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