Get Your Rest and Pass Your Test
It’s 8:58 a.m. in the biology amphitheater, and your eyes struggle to stay open. Your neck lurches forward. It’s torture. Fighting sleep deprivation was a daily war for me until I looked into different strategies to combat 1:00 p.m. naps and mid-lecture snoozes. Here are a few tips that worked for me. Hopefully you too can lessen or even eliminate the nod-offs, snapbacks and head tilts that startle you awake for a few seconds before dozing off again.
Structure a consistent sleep schedule. You may have heard of your “circadian rhythm” in the anatomy class you occasionally slept through. I’m a big scheduling nerd, and although actually keeping to my schedule is rather a challenge, I love organizing life a week, a month or even a few months in advance so I can plan to run a half-marathon or prepare a band for a worship service. Here’s the rub about scheduling: your body is a natural scheduler too, thanks to your pineal gland.
Your pineal gland is your body’s 24-hour clock that determines when you fall asleep and when you wake up through the rhythmic release of melatonin. When your body feels that it’s time to turn in, melatonin is released by the pea-sized gland sitting just behind the thalamus. But if you’re going to bed at varying times each night, the body doesn’t know exactly when to time its dose of melatonin. Keep to a constant sleep schedule, and your body will have no trouble knocking out at the predetermined time.
The early bird catches the worm. The video “Former Navy SEAL commanders explain why they still wake up at 4:30 a.m. — and why you should, too” has accrued over two and a quarter million views on YouTube. SEAL veterans and authors Jocko Willink and Leif Babin both share my views on rising before the sun.
“If you get up at 4:30 in the morning, you’re going to have some free time to yourself to make things happen, to take care of things that are important to you,” explains Willink. In conjunction with the previous tip, I recommend going to bed early and getting up early, especially when it comes to studying, for a few reasons.
One, it eliminates distractions. At night, many people are up late watching movies, visiting with friends or pouring through notes. But significantly fewer people are up at 5:30 a.m. than at 12:00 a.m. Less people, less noises, and less disturbances interrupting my study flow.
Secondly, I found my morning study sessions start with a clear mind, a blank slate for knowledge to be tacked on to. Relatedly, studying in the dark morning hours have been much more conducive to the study process because my mind hasn’t yet been fatigued. Study with a fresh mind to reap maximum benefits.
Lastly, once you get to your first class, you’ll already be very much awake. Sound appealing? When my alarm went off at 7:30am for an 8:30am class, I was still progressing through the stages of waking up. When I rose early, my metabolism was already in full stride by the time my first class was scheduled.
Those are my two cents worth of sleep strategies. Prepare yourself for tomorrow by going to bed early and getting up early, and most importantly, sleep at a consistent time. Sweet dreams!