Pulling an all-nighter. A cherished tradition of all college students and now many high schoolers. Especially during final exams when the amount of studying seems insurmountable, we tend to stay up well past midnight studying to get it all in. I can distinctly remember staying up for almost three days straight writing papers and studying for finals, living exclusively on Pop Tarts and Coca Cola.
But it turns out that what students should be doing is sleeping. Though many of us consider sleep a luxury, it is surprisingly important for memory retention. Sleep before studying and after studying gives your brain a chance to soak up the information fully.
I recently heard a piece on NPR (Naps May Improve Performance Later in the Day) explaining a sleep study that found that students remembered more when they took a nap than when they stayed away. They interviewed Dr. Matthew Walker from UC Berkeley who said that the participants remember 10% less information when they did not nap.
He explained the difference saying that sleep gives the brain a chance to move information from the short term memory to the long term memory. If you have ever woken up with a solution to a problem that you did not have the night before, you have experienced this first hand.
So the next time you have too much to possibly study, sleep on it. You might remember more with a 90 minute nap than you would with 90 minutes of extra study.
Note: a couple weeks after posting this article, I read about another study that claims that napping long enough to dream made a noticeable difference in learning. http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2010/04/dreaming-during-a-nap-may-improve-memory-processing.ars