Summer exams are here: the period when people study with all their might to achieve the best results they can. But often, students sacrifice sleep to gain an extra couple of hours to study. This is not quite ideal, and plausibly, less effective. This article explores the power of sleep, and thus integrates it with exam season.

Sleep is quite underestimated. In fact, were it not for sleep, we human beings may not be here today. What separated us, humans, from monkeys back in the day was sleep. When we humans were monkeys, we humans slept on the trunks at the top of trees, and this allowed us to have a luxurious and therefore, uninterrupted sleep; whilst the monkeys slept on the ground around the fire, always on their guard because of predators. 

This derived extreme differential: sleeping at the top of trees allowed our frontal cortex (the region of creativity in our brain) to relax properly. By allowing it to diffuse, our brain was able to connect to dots to produce many creative outputs, which I will discuss later. This only happened because as explained, we humans attained a luxurious and uninterrupted sleep, whilst the monkeys on the ground did not.

The reason for this is because the monkey’s brain knew that they were in an unsafe environment: it was quite plausible to get attacked by other predators, so they were always alert. As a result, it is not a surprise that the monkey did not have a good night’s sleep and was constantly interrupted.

Contrarily, because of humans’ luxurious sleep, we have developed faster and more innovative strategies for the needs of survival. For example, before humans had a good night’s sleep, they used to eat their feasts raw, which was extremely time consuming and lacked protein. But due to the power of sleep, they creatively heated their food, which led to the complete inverse of what we just stated: now it’s time-efficient and high in nutrition. An evolution was present. 

So, we now know a brief history of the power of sleep: we can apply it to the case of exams now. Suppose we are neuroscience researchers and want to see progress in algebraic literacy. We, therefore, have two groups of people: one group takes a nap after working on some algebra, whilst the other does not (this is called treatment and control). The group that does not take a nap will therefore do something else during this period. We will find that regarding memory retention, the group that took a nap will outperform the group that did not take a nap when asked to work on some algebra again.

The reason for this is quite simple. Like the brief history of human and monkeys, by taking a nap, we have allowed our brain to diffuse. To be more precise in this situation, rather than focusing on the frontal cortex (although it does also have a role to play), napping has managed to stimulate a region of the brain called the hippocampus. 

The hippocampus is a region of the brain that transfers the items from your short-term memory box to your long-term memory box. As a result, by being able to store more in your long-term memory box from sleeping, you have opened plenty of space for your short-term memory box. And now, applying this to the case of exams, it is quite easy to see the importance of a nap in-between your study sessions: you can remember much more!

Now, you have learned a small bit about the power of sleep and what it can do to help you during exam season. I also hope that you do not twist this logic up by using sleep as an excuse to evade studying. That, unfortunately, is not the point I am making: sleep is only one supporting variable to help you retain what you have studied. In spite of this, I hope this has developed your knowledge of the importance of sleep, and I wish you all the best in your exams!

Wilson Tai – Features Writer