Get More Sleep When Cramming for Finals

No need for an all-nighter. Ace your exams without losing sleep with these smart strategies.

When it comes to acing your end-of-semester exams, every minute of studying counts, right? Maybe not. It turns out that staying up too late (or all night!) memorizing facts and formulas can actually backfire. Did you know that following up a study session with a sleep session actually helps the material stick in your memory? On the flip side, missing out on shut-eye could make it harder to remember what you reviewed the night before. Luckily, it’s possible to get good grades and get enough sleep.

First, get a head start. Cramming a semester’s worth of material into one night of studying is more than just stressful; it also ups the chance that you’ll have to pull an all-nighter, which in turn increases the chance of doing poorly on the test. Sure, a busy schedule might occasionally mean studying the night before is your only option. But if you can plan ahead, your body—and GPA—will thank you.

Just like an athlete before a big race, set your schedule up with a taper. Several days out from your exam should be your biggest night of studying. If you need to stay up late to memorize and review, this is the time to do it. As the exam approaches, gradually shift the ratio of studying to sleep, until the night before you are able to focus more on snoozing than hitting the books. The strategy works: Students who got more than seven hours of shut-eye the night prior to taking a test received a better grade than those who slept fewer hours, according to research. They also had a higher semester GPA. Ask yourself: Who would you rather be?

To improve the odds of maximizing every moment of sleep, power down all tech devices before turning out the light. (Chances are, you’ll need to use your laptop for the majority of your studying, but try to wrap this portion up an hour before bedtime.) It turns out that the blue light emitted by these devices can mess with your circadian rhythm, making it harder to fall—and stay—asleep. Spend those final quiet moments before bed reviewing notecards or reading your textbook like it’s stress-free bedtime reading. You’ll wake up refreshed and ready to rock your test.