Ask Andi: Is it Bad That I Study So Much, I Don't Sleep?

Hey Andi,

I have been swamped with all this work for my classes lately.   I need to get a good G.P.A. because I want to get into the psychology honors program next year.  I stay up all night cramming for exams and I have been getting barely any sleep.  I feel fine when I get up, but by the end of my first class, I hit a wall.  I feel like a zombie, but I NEED to get all of this work done so sleeping seems like a waste of time.  What can I do?


Tired in Tubman House

Dear Tired in Tubman House,

You seem like a dedicated student who really wants to succeed academically.  I don’t doubt that your workload is extremely heavy either.  When you’ve got so much to do and not much time to do it, sleeping can seem like a big waste of time.  Cutting back on a few hours of sleep here and there can drastically increase the amount of time you have available for work, but after awhile it takes its toll.

If you miss a meal one day, it won’t drastically affect you- but if you skip a few meals frequently, your health would obvious decline.  Sleep is not any different.  Sleeping is a biological need just like eating, drinking and breathing.  As a psychology major, I am confident you are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  For my lovely readers who aren’t familiar with this concept, I will put it simply.  Mr. Maslow was a psychologist who developed a theory that we all have a set of needs that can be grouped from the most basic to the most complex.  The idea is that we need to meet our basic needs before we can move to meeting the next level of needs; the highest level can only be met if all the prior ones have been met.  Before needs for safety, esteem and love, Maslow placed physiological needs as the first and most important level.  If you are hungry, thirsty, hot/cold, or tired then it is hard to focus on anything else.  If you are depriving yourself of sleep, it will be harder to finish your work because you won’t have the best focus.

 When you study for two hours late at night, you may think you are gaining two hours of study time.  But because your focus and concentration are diminished you stand to gain very little.  If you slept for one of those two hours, you would finish just as much work, if not more, in the remaining hour because you have met your biological need for sleep. This is because when you are tired, you aren’t able to retain as much information.  Even worse, you will wake the next day feeling even more exhausted and less focused. You need to ask yourself how much you are really accomplishing during these late night study sessions.   

To realistically fix this issue without giving up valuable studying time, I have a few suggestions that I am confident will help.  One option is going to bed earlier and waking earlier.  When you finally get back to your room after a busy day, your mindset may be to finish all your assignments.  The problem is, towards the end of the day we are more tired and less focused. When you wake up in the morning, even after a little bit of sleep, your body is refreshed and you have more energy.  You even feel this energy jolt with as little sleep as you have been getting.  Imagine this same feeling only after more sleep! Instead of staying up late, try getting to bed as early as you can and waking up an hour or two earlier.  This shift will allow you to hopefully get more sleep, and to also take advantage of that morning burst of energy.  Only this time, the energy will be less of a façade.

Another option is taking cat-naps.  When you are studying or working on a project and you feel yourself spacing out, do not fight through it.  Instead, listen to your body and trade your books for a pillow.  Fighting through being tired won’t let you get much quality work done anyways, so sacrifice a few minutes to rest.  Some people are able to take a 10 minute power nap and feel like they slept for hours.  Even if you take an hour long nap, the rest will benefit you more than trying to study tired. If you are afraid of oversleeping, set an alarm on your phone.

A student as dedicated as you is willing to sacrifice a lot for her grades, but neglecting biological needs can seriously hurt you and set you back even further in your workload.

Close your eyes and catch some Z’s and I can guarantee you’ll see more A’s

xoxo Andi