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Sleep more, (exam) stress less

Sleeping is like nutrition for the brain and is more important than cramming, science says.

It’s true: shorting sleep can result in lower grades. While students do that studenty thing of pulling all-nighters before an exam a.k.a clutching Buddha’s leg at the last possible moment, their body set up the perfect recipe for stress, lack of focus, “fuzzy thinking” and lower grades.

A 2012 study in the journal Child Development found that skimping on sleep was associated with doing more poorly on a test, quiz, or homework. “Reduced sleep … accounts for the increase in academic problems that occurs after days of increased studying,” said UCLA scientist Andrew Fuligni. “Although these nights of extra studying may seem necessary, they can come at a cost.”

“Short or poor sleep is a significant risk factor for poor academic performance that is frequently ignored,” clinical psychologist Reut Gruber, lead author of another study examining the link between sleep and academic performance concurs. In fact, her team found a “significant” impact on math and languages, with just 20 more minutes of shuteye leading to better grades in Math and English. “14% of the variability we found in math …was explained by sleep deficiency,” she shared. “It was 7% and 8% for English and French.”

So how much sleep should children get? The US National Sleep Foundation recommends 10-11 hours for children between five to 12, and 9 hours for teenagers. But studies suggest 40% of lower primary school students are sleep-deprived, and only 20% of top secondary school and JC get enough sleep.

How then can you help your child beat these statistics and survive the Exam Weeks?

  • Be prepared.

The best way to manage exam stress is to be as prepared as possible. Create a ‘revision plan’ of what your child needs to revise (and when) – and help him stick to it!

  • Prioritise

The sheer amount of revision in these most stressful weeks can be overwhelming for your child, but there’s no need to mug everything in the syllabus. Help her set priorities and focus on the topics that will most likely come up in the exams. Break tasks down into bite-size chunks, and set reasonable goals.

  • Eat healthy.

Stress eating may leave your child feeling heavy, bloated and tired. Ditch the chocolate and chips and keep healthy snacks such as nuts, fresh fruit or raw vegetables (celery or carrot sticks are perfect for these occasions) on hand for revision munchies.

  • Cut the caffeine and energy drinks after lunch.

Red Bull, coffee and chicken’s essence may be a student’s best friend during this period, but they also lead to sleepless nights, so encourage him to skip these after lunch. Instead, scent the room with rosemary (thought by the ancient Greeks and Romans to strengthen memory), jazz up his water with a spritz or two of lemon juice (research suggests that the scent of lemon enhances performance on tasks that require a lot of concentration), perk him up with some peppermint tea (associated with decreased anxiety and fatigue, increased motivation and performance) or give him a tasty handful antioxidants with darkly pigmented fruits like blueberries (some studies have found they can augment concentration and memory for up to 5 hours). 

  • Give her breaks.

Persistence is key to studying, but too much of it can lead to burnout. Give her reasonable breaks – a few minutes in-between revision topics to rest the eyes and brain can be a good refresher, or if she’s been hitting the books too long, a longer one can help her ‘detox’ and reset her productivity.

  • Make your child’s bedroom a no-study zone.

It may be where your child’s desk is, but if he’s cooped up in there stuffing knowledge into himself all day, he’s not likely to break out of study mode to go into sleep mode easily. Encourage him to revise in other areas of the house, and ensure other members of the family give him room to do so.

  • Make the most of bedtime.

It doesn’t matter how long your child is in bed if she actually sleeps for only a few hours before the big day. A comfortable, supportive bed can make a huge difference in how rested she’ll feel the next morning. If her panda eyes are a constant sight, it may be time for a bed evaluation.  

Here’s to your child snoozing her way to success during the exams!

PS. Check out our other nifty tips for beating the bedtime battles here.

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