Once upon a time, the idea of cramming for exams was common practice. College students would spend all night studying, trying to retain information for their important tests. However, studies surrounding how memory and cognition work have proven that bulk study sessions aren't ideal.
Sleep and CognitionSleep is one of the most important contributors to improving your memory. Those who experience sleep deprivation often struggle to focus and to retain or recall important information. The quality of your sleep will ultimately impact how well you perform during tests.
Sleep also contributes to consolidating your memories in a meaningful way. Think of your brain as a library, with your memories held in a series of filing cabinets. When you sleep, your brain files the information you've collected into clearly-labeled and organized thoughts. If you don't get enough sleep, those memories stay in a disorganized jumble or fade away completely.
Instead of staying up until 2 am studying, start earlier and end earlier. Prioritize high-quality rest and create a separate environment that lets you sleep away from your study materials. You can read this blog post for guidance on improving your sleep.
Keep in mind that a brief nap between study sessions can also have tremendous impacts on your memory and retention.
Nourishing Your BrainA part of taking rest periods from your study efforts is to provide time to nourish your body and recharge your brain. While incorporating some fun treats and snacks into your study routine can be fun, it's also important to shift your focus to nourishment and mindful eating to regulate your appetite.
If you're feeling foggy, take a rest period to drink a glass of water and have a healthy meal or snack. It's integral to remove distractions while eating to get in tune with your hunger cues so that you aren't distracted by phantom hunger pangs later.
Set reminders to stop and drink water as well. The symptoms of dehydration are often subtle and can be confused for exhaustion or hunger. Taking frequent water breaks will help improve your focus and energy.
How Stress Impacts MemoryStress wreaks havoc on the memory center of your brain. People who experience stress tend to have more trouble creating short-term memories. So, if you're stressing about your test next week, remembering what you've studied may prove to be challenging.
When you take study breaks, try to engage in a de-stressing activity. Do something simple that brings you joy. Try to avoid going on social media or scrolling aimlessly, as these activities can actually increase your stress levels.
Movement and CognitionExercise and casual rest seem like two very different activities. However, incorporating movement into your study breaks can help reduce stress and give your brain time to process what you've learned.
During your study sessions, practice passive movements that don't require a lot of thought or motivation. Simple stretching, yoga, cleaning, or walking outdoors will get you moving without engaging in intense exercise.
While intense exercise is a stress on the body, it also releases endorphins that can improve your mood and cognition. Rather than incorporating a hard workout in the middle of your sessions, consider scheduling them before or after you study.
The Pomodoro TechniqueThe Pomodoro technique is a productivity tool that incorporates mid-range periods of focus followed by short breaks. Generally, this happens at a ratio of 25 minutes of dedicated work followed by a five-minute break.
This productivity technique promotes casual rest to help your brain focus and retain information. Consider using this method to support your study efforts.
The next time you consider an all-night study session, try to break it up into smaller sittings instead. Your brain and your test scores will thank you.