Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Health Wise

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Health Wise

Article excerpt

Can the Cramming

With semester exams coming, this is a good time to remind students that pulling all-nighters before tests can backfire.

A recent study shows that if a student sacrifices sleep to study more than usual, he or she will be more likely to struggle on a test the following day (Gillen-O'Neel, Huynh, and Fuligni 2013).

The study was based on 14 days of diary entries kept by 535 Los Angeles high school students. The diaries recorded how long they studied, how long they slept, and whether they understood what was taught in class; they also recorded their grades on tests, quizzes, or homework done the next day. The students represented a mix of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.

"Sacrificing sleep for more studying time is a counterproductive strategy for adolescents," the study stated (Gillen-O'Neel, Huynh, and Fuligni 2013, p. 141). "Our results suggest that the best studying strategy for adolescents is to study consistently on school days. If adolescents do need to study more than normal, they should not sacrifice sleep but rather some other activity. Educators should emphasize the importance of sleep and a regular studying schedule."

The researchers recommend that students distribute their total study and homework time evenly across all days of the week. Experimental research has demonstrated that spacing study time evenly across a number of days results in better academic performance than studying in one massed session, even if the total amount of study time is the same (Kornell 2009).

"The quality of the sleep you get determines your ability to retain the information you learned" before sleeping, said Matthew Carter, a neuroscientist studying brain sleep/wake circuitry, during a webinar (Carter 2012). "It's common scientific knowledge now that if you sleep-deprive [adolescents], even just for a couple hours, students function less the next day. All the synapses for the learning that you did during the day are being strengthened [during sleep]."

Classroom activity

This activity teaches the importance to academic success of consistently getting a good night's sleep and adopting good study habits. First, have students read the selected articles for teens vetted by licensed physicians (see "On the web"), then have them answer these questions with information from those articles, either as a quiz (see "On the web" for a printable quiz) or as part of a classroom discussion (answers in parentheses):

* How many hours of sleep do most teens need each night? …

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