Preparing for your Final Exam

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As Exams approach you will be inundated with a myriad of advice about study tips; which supplement is the best, how each professors prefers their answers, and so on, but there is one piece of advice everyone forgets to mention:

GET ENOUGH SLEEP!!!!

I know, I know, there is not enough time in the day and you have to stay up later than usual to study.  Everyone in Law School knows you don’t sleep during the exam period and you are panicking because you just realized you only have 2 weeks to get everything in your head but guess what – your brain won’t work if you don’t take care of it!

This shouldn’t be news to you.  I’m sure your parents set a bedtime (and not just because they needed adult time) because they knew getting a good night’s sleep is important.  One of the first sleep studies was done in 1896 at the University of Iowa.  The fascination with sleep and learning has been going strong ever since![1]  However, as smart as we law students think we are, we don’t listen to the experts when we are pulling all-nighters to cram for our exams.

It has been proven that sleep deprivation impedes your capacity to complete difficult cognitive tasks–  like our final exams.  Even worse, all the studying you do while super-sleepy is not going to stick, so you are going to end up restudying everything and will STILL be tired and cranky.  So just be smart – get some sleep and start fresh in the morning.

Don’t believe me or your parents?  How about Harvard Doctors:

The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Learning and Performance

Another area that researchers study is the impact that a lack of adequate sleep has on learning and memory. When we are sleep deprived, our focus, attention, and vigilance drift, making it more difficult to receive information. Without adequate sleep and rest, over-worked neurons can no longer function to coordinate information properly, and we lose our ability to access previously learned information.

In addition, our interpretation of events may be affected. We lose our ability to make sound decisions because we can no longer accurately assess the situation, plan accordingly, and choose the correct behavior. Judgment becomes impaired.

Being chronically tired to the point of fatigue or exhaustion means that we are less likely to perform well. Neurons do not fire optimally, muscles are not rested, and the body’s organ systems are not synchronized. Lapses in focus from sleep deprivation can even result in accidents or injury.

Low-quality sleep and sleep deprivation also negatively impact mood, which has consequences for learning. Alterations in mood affect our ability to acquire new information and subsequently to remember that information. Although chronic sleep deprivation affects different individuals in a variety of ways (and the effects are not entirely known), it is clear that a good night’s rest has a strong impact on learning and memory.[2]

Got your attention?  Now the question is: how do I shut down and actually get some rest?  Personally, my biggest problem is turning off my brain.  I lay down and my mind just speeds up.  I found some tips and have even tried a couple, especially turning off technology (sigh).  That one seemed to work the best for me.  Check out the list below, get some rest, and get some A’s on those exams.  Good Luck!

  • 30 minutes before bed stop using all technology. Shut off the cell phone, close the laptop, and don’t even use a Kindle. The lights are keeping your mind moving, so no TV either.
  • Read a print book. It’s very old fashioned but it will help (I have found Civ Pro puts me right to sleep).  Seriously, nothing that stirs the brain, just light reading.
  • Go to sleep as soon as you start feeling sleepy. If you wait you will kick into second gear and be up for even longer.
  • Try a weighted blanket, which molds to your body and the weight actually helps your nervous system relax.
  • Try aromatherapy. I hear that lavender is the best. You can take a nice hot bath with some lavender oil, spray your pillows, or just lightly spritz the bedroom with whichever scent you prefer.
  • Cut out the sugar and caffeine before bedtime. Try to keep limit your intake after 4 pm.  I know you need the afternoon boost, but try a healthy energy snack like an apple with peanut butter or dried fruits and nuts instead.[3]
  • Get in your PJ’s and have a soothing cup of Chamomile tea (remember no sugar).
  • Really old fashioned here, but a nice glass of warm milk.
  • This is a little weird but… the a study from the University of Glasgow said to lay in bed with your eyes open trying to keep yourself awake will actually make you fall asleep faster (playing reverse psychology with your own mind… who knew?).

Put some socks on those piggies!  When your feet are cold that means the blood is not flowing to your extremities and all the heat stays in your core, so warm up those little toes and get the blood flowing.  This releases heat from your body and helps you relax

[1] Patrick, G. T. & Gilbert, J. A. On the effects of loss of sleep. Psychol. Rev., 1896, 3: 469–483.

[2] http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory

[3] http://www.health.com/sleep/5-energy-boosting-snacks

Authored by Kimberly Carabotta & edited by Sarah Malkin

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