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Is Cheating on Sleep Cheating Yourself During the Test?

As diligently as students might think they are studying for tests, there are a few vital reasons why grades might not seem to reflect the time spent studying. Online Quizlet flashcard sets and review packets are passed amongst students like precious gold, but students may be forgetting their most effective study tool–sleep.

Limiting sleep is limiting precious time your brain needs to consolidate countless facts and ideas absorbed throughout the day. Are you thinking that you’ve heard this before, but that scoring a certain grade by studying longer is more important than getting enough sleep? Well, did you realize that every hour of sleep lost can affect your testing performance, and in result, your grades? Some students are reluctant to cut their study time short to hit the sack; they think studying until 1am will stick stacks of terms into their brain. The truth is, recent studies have shown that sleeping is more productive than staying up to cram! Sleeping is learning, and shortchanging yourself of sleep inhibits your memory, judgment, problem solving, and learning… all the mental processes you’ll need during the test.

So, put down the flashcards at a reasonable time and turn out the lights, because the more sleep you get, the better you will function during a test. An expert on learning and memory, Benedict Carey, revealed how students can adjust their sleep schedules to enhance their test performance in New York Times article “Want to Ace that Test? Get the Right Kind of Sleep”. Well, in case you haven’t seen it yet, we’re bringing that info straight to you from Inkwell.

Here’s how you can plan your sleep schedule to enhance performance in specific areas.

  1. For Vocabulary Tests (English or any other language):

Vocabulary tests require strict memorization and test your retention. Go to bed at your regular time. Don’t cheat yourself out of the first half of the night; this is the richest time of sleep when your brain consolidates new facts and imprints new words in your mind. Without it, your brain will feel fuzzier regarding just basic facts. If you want, get up early to review material.

  1. Math, Reading Comprehension, and History:

If a test is going to test your brain’s ability to comprehend and decipher complex information, you can stay up a touch later until you reviewed as much material as possible, and then get the full dose of dream-rich sleep. While you’re dreaming deeply, your brain goes through a period of REM sleep, a stage when your brain fuses everything you learned that day, which is vital to understanding the material to your best ability.

  1. For athletic and musical performance:

If you want to hit the basketball court or the right notes during a concert at your best, sleep accordingly. Practice as much as you can the day before and before bed, then go to bed at your normal time or a little later. During the second half of the night, the brain enhances muscle memory and motor skills, imperative for athletic and musical activities. If a point-guard wants to be thinking as sharply and strategically as possible during a game, he should also strategize, the night before, to get enough sleep. With the increased concentration, energy, and memory that sleep grants, he’ll pass better, shoot with more accuracy, and remember plays with ease. Similarly, for a music recital, stay up a little later preparing and sleep in to your normal time in the morning; rather than waking up early to review and missing valuable time the brain spends refining skills in your muscle memory.


A final tip to prolong your sleepy time: Cut down your screen time! “When you look at vocabulary and look at huge stimulus after that, your brain has to decide which information to store,” says Harvard neuroscientist, Markus Dworak. “Your brain might favor the emotionally stimulating information over the vocabulary.”

We all know the feeling! You just studied algebra formulas for hours and while scrolling through twitter, you’re confronted with the temptation to watch a sloth eat an ice-cream cone while doing the ice-bucket challenge… and then—is that a chimpanzee cuddling with a baby panda? You’re finished, the quadratic formula you just repeated ten times in your head seems to be replaced with a baby panda.

Basically, try not to look at your phone before bed. It’s scientifically proven that just a glance at the lit screen of computer or cellphone automatically decreases production of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin, in the brain. So if you’re in bed at the right time but the last thing on your sleep list includes saying goodnight to your Instagram, be aware, your smartphone might steal your sleep! It’s tough, yes, right you reach to turn on a phone alarm, you’re splashed with a gush of text messages like cold water in the eyes. Just keep in mind that minutes spent on your phone or computer before bed will not only delay your bedtime, but over the course of time deprive you hours of precious sleep your brain needs…Which is reflected when your brain is suddenly foggy during a test you spent hours reviewing for. So don’t be cheap with your sleep, or your grades might end up paying the price.




Brody, Jane E. “Cheating Ourselves of Sleep.” Well Cheating Ourselves of Sleep Comments. The New York Times, 17 June 2013. Web. 09 Nov. 2014.

Carey, Benedict. “Want to Ace That Test? Get the Right Kind of Sleep.”Motherlode Want to Ace That Test Get the Right Kind of Sleep Comments. The New York Times, 26 Oct. 2014. Web. 09 Nov. 2014.

Richtel, Matt. “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 20 Nov. 2010. Web. 02 Nov. 2014.


  1. Doc Garrett December 9, 2014

    Great piece, Sasha!

  2. Sara Pozzi December 9, 2014

    Excellent article, Sasha! Such important information to share – I hope everyone reads this!

  3. Sabrina L. December 10, 2014

    Very informative article Sasha. Great job.

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