Tips to improve your exam performance
With May and June on the horizon, summer is nearly upon us – a favourite time of year for many. However, for those still in education, these months can become packed with exams and disturbed sleep, which can often stand in the way of summertime fun.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that children aged five to 12 get 10-11 hours of sleep a night. (Teenagers need about 9 hours, but studies suggest only 15% of them get it.) It’s important to aim for these amounts of sleep especially for subjects like maths and languages as we use something called ‘executive functions’ which help things like working memory and planning.
Whether it’s SATs, GCSEs, A-levels or university, students and schoolchildren everywhere face a period of studying and revision, often beginning in May, that can seem never ending – especially when the sun is shining outside!
It’s no secret that sleep can be overlooked during this period. In fact, most of us would probably admit to staying up to work into the night from time or time, or even just lying in bed awake, worrying about the work that you still need to get done before a big exam.
However, this has disastrous implications for our sleep patterns. As exam season draws nearer, Silentnight’s resident sleep expert, Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, has shared her top tips to help students of all ages sleep better during a stressful time.
Ways which can improve exam performance
- Give yourself breaks
Dr Nerina said: “Our ability to concentrate runs in cycles of roughly 90 minutes. After this time, the working memory in the prefrontal cortex shuts down and we stop retaining information – so don’t feel guilty for stepping away from the desk.
“A quick 5-10 minute break can help to ‘unload’ the working memory, allowing us to return to a task feeling focused and raring to go again.”
- Power nap
“Taking a nap might seem like surprising advice for boosting productivity, but taking time out to sleep can have a big impact on how much you get done, since you’ll wake up feeling rejuvenated and more energised.
“Naturally, most of us have a dip in energy levels around 3pm, so if you find yourself losing concentration, this is the perfect time to take a quick power nap.”
- Eat more chocolate
Although it might seem a surprising one, it could be music to your ears.
Dr Nerina is a big advocate for a good old bar of chocolate to stay focused and on track during exam season. She said: “Chocolate releases endorphins which act as a natural stress fighter, and those which contain over 70% cocoa fight the stress hormone cortisol, and have an overall relaxing effect on the body.
“So keep some handy when revising, as a nice reward for your efforts!”
You can have a further read of Dr Nerina’s recommended foods for a great night of restorative sleep here.
- Know your limits
“When it comes to studying, the desire to do well and soak in as much knowledge as possible can be overpowering, but it is important to recognise your limits.
“Set yourself realistic targets with regards to what you’d like to achieve that day. You’re not going to memorise a full textbook in one day, so admit defeat where necessary and get some well-earned rest.”
- Be aware
Pay attention to any ‘unusual’ symptoms that have started to pop up such as headaches, insomnia, IBS, appetite changes, skin problems, tearfulness, anxiety or depression. These could be signs that you are not coping.
- Avoid nutritional stress
Eat healthily and stay well hydrated. Snack healthily to maintain blood sugar levels so that your brain is able to absorb information. Avoid caffeine after 2pm so that you can optimise sleep quality.
The type and amount of sleep you get before an exam can also be very important. Dr. Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute, previously spoke to the Huffington Post about the importance of sleep coming into an exam. He believes that when it comes to mental stamina, getting sleep is one of the most important attributes you can have.
In order to buck this trend and achieve the best grades possible, Dr Oexman recommended these tips that will help you succeed through sleep.
- Make your bedroom a sleep-centric place
Blue light emitted from computers, smartphones, and tablets hurts natural sleep processes, and should all be shut off before you settle down at night.
- Get those crucial eight hours
This allows your brain to prepare for sleep and maximise the type of rest you get during the night. Routine is a requisite here, and getting eight hours when you can will diminish the effects it has.
- Deflect Exterior Noises
To deflect exterior sounds, use eye masks and earplugs to drown out the light and noise. You will be amazed how this can impact your sleep and your grades.
Do you have exams looming? What are you doing to prepare for them? Let us know on our social media pages.