Sleep is one of the body’s most critical biological functions, yet it’s often the first thing sacrificed when we feel overwhelmed or stressed. Studying for the bar exam is certainly one of those times, and you often hear of students pulling all-nighters and running on very little shut-eye in a bid to spend as much time as possible studying.
But research shows this strategy is counterproductive. Not only is studying late into the night exhausting but getting a good night’s sleep can help you feel more alert and energized, to make your study sessions more productive.
Plus, getting good quality sleep can actually improve your test performance. Here’s how:
- Sleep improves memory. It’s during sleep when your brain commits information to long-term memory, so getting quality rest can actually improve your retention and recall of what you’ve learned. Plus, getting plenty of rest helps you to stay more alert and clear-headed during study sessions, instead of feeling groggy and sluggish. In this way, sleep offers a one-two punch: you’ll feel more on your game during study sessions and retain more of what you’ve studied after the fact.
- Sleep reduces stress. Sleep deprivation raises your body’s level of the stress hormone cortisol and can prompt an exaggerated cortisol response when exposed to an acute stressor. That means if you go into the test—an already stressful situation—sleep deprived, it will feel even more stressful. So, get some rest, and try to relax.
- Sleep aids overall health. Sleep is a critical function for your overall wellbeing—it’s when your body recovers from the activity, stress and stimulation of the day. And lack of sleep has proven to cause a direct and immediate reduction in overall health. But getting enough sleep can actually boost your immune system and help keep you from getting sick, which can obviously interfere with test prep.
Studying for a big test like the bar exam can be stressful and that might make it more difficult for you to fall sleep. But here are several tips that can help you get some rest:
- Stick to a routine. Your body thrives on a regular routine. Do your best to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps to nurture and work with your body’s natural circadian rhythm and help you get the best quality sleep during the night.
- Get some exercise. Regular physical activity can help wear you out during the day so that you’re tired at bedtime. It also releases endorphins, which improves your overall mood and spurs the production of serotonin, which “programs” your circadian rhythm. Studies have shown that improving your overall fitness can improve sleep quality and discourage insomnia.
- Avoid electronics before bedtime. The blue light emitted from electronic devices like smartphones, TVs and computer screens mimics natural daylight, which upsets your circadian rhythm and fools your body into thinking it’s time to be awake, making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Instead, put away electronics several hours before bedtime and dim the lights to queue your body that it’s time for rest. If that’s not an option, wear a pair of blue-light blocking glasses to minimize the impact.
- Wind down. Rather than studying right up until you fall asleep with notecards in-hand, practice a bedtime routine. Take a hot bath, read an actual book, listen to soothing music, or engage in other activities that help you to feel calm and sleepy. This signals to your body that it’s time for rest and can help you fall asleep quicker. If there are things on your mind, topics you need to review again or other issues making you feel anxious or worried, try writing them down on a notepad. This can help you set them aside for the time being and serve as a reminder to deal with them tomorrow.
No matter how stressful and overwhelming bar exam prep can feel, getting enough quality sleep is one of the best things you can do to bolster your exam performance. Don’t dismiss your need for sleep and think you’ll catch up after the exam—you need it now more than ever. Making sleep a priority during test prep can help you feel better prepared and more confident.