By Akhil Shahani
Everyone is familiar with the experience of panicking the day before the exams, mugging all night to review a portion and then going blank when one actually sits for the paper. Scientific research shows that studying all night is actually counterproductive to success in examinations and one must get at least eight hours of sleep.
Memories are formed in the brain via a two-step process. The first step is “acquisition”, where the brain stores what one has recently read into its ‘short-term’ memory area. When one sleeps, these short-term memories move into the “consolidation” step where they are converted into long-term memories that are available to be recalled at a later time. Without sleep, these long-term memories cannot be created and the short-term memories are discarded to make space for new short-term memories that will need to be created the next day. Hence, if your child studies all night, they haven’t given their brain a chance to consolidate what they learned into long-term memories which can be used during exams the next day.
Now that you know the importance of sleep before exams, how do you ensure that your child gets an adequate amount? These tips may help:
Calculate 8 ½ hours before the time your child needs to need to wake up and start preparing for bed. Assume it takes 30 minutes to brush one’s teeth, set the alarm and do some light (non-exam related) reading, which leaves eight hours for actual sleep.
Having dinner too close to bedtime will mess with the internal body clock and make it difficult to sleep. Try to get your child to eat at least three to four hours before they plan to sleep. If they are still hungry close to bedtime, have a very light snack. Some foods like milk, bananas and walnuts contain chemicals can help one sleep.
Make sure your child avoids all sources of caffeine, like coffee, tea, chocolate and colas after 3pm. Caffeine is a major stimulant and stays in the body for at least six to eight hours, making it difficult to sleep.
Do not have a television or smart phones by the bedside. LCD screens emit blue enriched light that interferes with one’s body clock and prevents the “sleep” hormone melatonin from being produced. Without melatonin, although one can sleep, the sleep that is achieved will be light and non-refreshing. Light can also make you feel more alert, again training the brain to perceive the bed as a place of cognitive arousal.
Lying in bed and worrying about how they will perform in exams the next day will interfere with sleep. Encourage your child to try meditating and doing breathing exercises to calm the mind. Also, if they have a lot of things to remember to do the next day, suggest they write them down in a notebook by their bedside, so they don’t need to worry about forgetting these.
Your child has worked hard preparing for exams; make sure they get enough sleep so that all their work doesn’t go to waste!
(The writer is Managing Director, The Shahani Group.)