Sleep: The Trump Card to Getting Good Marks
Updated: Nov 10, 2021
Talha Ahmad, Grade 11
As we approach the end of our first Quadmester, the workload we get from our teachers increases everyday. More tests, more assignments, and this makes students question: to sleep or not to sleep? That is the question that many students answer, but unfortunately, answer wrong. While it may seem beneficial to lay off on sleeping to grind through schoolwork, that is not really the case. Before I tell you why sleeping is beneficial when it comes to school, it is necessary to explain what sleep really is.
Sleep mainly consists of two forms: REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement). REM sleep is the phase of sleep that most closely resembles your waking brain. Your brainwaves rapidly rise and fall, similar to how they would if you were awake, and in this stage of sleep, you are able to have dreams. NREM sleep, on the other hand, has slow, deep, brainwaves, thus earning the name “deep sleep.” Along with these two phases of sleep, there are two sections in the brain that are vital when it comes to learning. These two sections are the hippocampus and the neocortex. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that stores short term memories, while the neocortex is the part of the brain that stores long term memories (Trafton). Both portions of the brain have a lot more functions, but for our purpose, we only care about their memory storing abilities. When it comes to school, the facts and information you learn in the classroom are initially stored in the hippocampus, however, through repetition — a practice known as “studying,” a student is able to turn short-term memories stored in the hippocampus into long-term memories stored in the neocortex (Gabrieli). This is what students mainly aim for when they re-read their notes before tests instead of sleeping; however, research has proven that this is a wasteful action.
You may notice a common trend that occurs sometime after an exam or test — some students still remember everything they study, while others cannot remember anything they studied. Most may assume that the ones who remember simply studied more, and in doing so, were more successful in turning their short-term memories into long term memories. This, though possible as discussed in the previous paragraph, is the hard way to convert short-term memories into long-term memories. This is because sleep, specifically NREM sleep, does the exact same procedure, but is a much more efficient way (Since you are sleeping during this time). Dr. Matthew Walker, a professional sleep scientist and professor at the University of California Berkeley, says in his book Why we Sleep, “The slow brainwaves of deep, NREM sleep [serve] as a courier service, transporting memory packets from a temporary storage hold (the hippocampus) to a more secure, permanent home (the cortex)” (Walker). From the previous paragraph, you may recall that NREM sleep consists of slow, deep, brainwaves, and as discovered through research, these brainwaves are responsible for turning short-term memories into long-term memories. They allow the hippocampus and neocortex to “communicate” with each other, and in doing so, transfer memories. What this means is that by sleeping before and after learning, you are able to avail two main benefits: freeing up space in your short-term memory for more learning, and solidifying short-term memories into long-term memories so that you are able to retain them for tests, exams, or any assignments. Based on this knowledge, not only would one consider sleep to be beneficial for the purpose of memorizing school related knowledge, but also mandatory for being prepared to learn and perform well in school.
Please note that I am not implying that just sleeping is sufficient enough to replace studying. Instead, I believe that a perfect balance of both would lead to the best academic performance. *Yawn* Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get to bed. It’s getting late here, and I have a test tomorrow.