I’m writing this while sitting in the Boston Coffee House (hey Jaci), which is a later lesson. It’s finals time so we are all struggling to cram months worth of material back into our brains in hope for a good grade. We can use all the help we can get. Some of us turn to coffee, caffeine, and performance enhancers. While these might help you stay focused, do they really help you remember the material?
Whatever you’re using is likely to keep you up…so you think why not just pull an all nighter? Problem is that most information you learn is retained during sleep. The extra hours of study time you gain are ruined by the sleep you sacrifice. A study in Sleep found that people’s accuracy on memory tasks “dropped by about 15%” when they pulled an all-nighter. Still think it’s such a great idea? During sleep your brain consolidates information, so without some shut eye, you’re unable to file away that information you’ve been studying all day. I’d take a good nights rest over some extra studying any day. If you disregard this and still do your all nighter, then don’t wimp out. A few hours of sleep will make you feel worse than if you had just stayed up all night. Your body produces extra adrenaline to make up for the lack of sleep. Also, make sure you stay fueled; you burn up to 50% more calories while staying awake that late.
Flash cards, outlines, blah blah blah. We’ve all heard that before, so I plan to supply you with a few different tricks for your arsenal. Peppermint or chewing gum while studying can help you retain the information you’re studying by as much as 17%. The same peppermint or gum during the test will help trigger your brain to remember the information. Music can have the same effect, but I don’t think they let iPods into the testing lab. Thirty minutes on, and thirty minutes off can also help keep your brain fresh. Need a restart? Take a short, 20-30 minute nap after drinking an espresso. You won’t enter deep sleep, and the caffeine kicks in as you wake up. It’s amazingly refreshing. I also recommend study naps during studying to help retain the material while rebooting your brain. Don’t forget to find your getaway. Whether it’s a coffee shop, the library, or the business building, getting out of your house and away from everyone does wonders for your focus. Use the “StayFocused” extension for Google Chrome to keep you off Facebook.
Just like in a race, a good start is important. For us to have a good start, we need a good end. Before you go to bed, have a small, healthy snack (such as peanut butter on celery). It won’t cause your glucose levels to spike, and will help give your body fuel throughout the night. Part of that groggy feeling in the morning is a lack of food all night. Minimize light and noise in your room, turn off the TV, cover up the flashing lights on your printer, and use your blackout curtains or cute sleep mask. In the morning eat a healthy breakfast of oatmeal or eggs, and brew up a cup of green tea. Tea contains natural caffeine (no crash) and an amino acid called Theanine. This wonder molecule naturally eases anxiety, causing a relaxed yet alert feeling. Doses of 50 – 200 mgs are effective for 8-10 hours. One cup of green tea has 50 mgs, so drink up. Use some honey as a sweetener if needed. Brew your own tea though, or buy it at a coffee shop, because most bottled tea contains huge amounts of sugar and fewer benefits than freshly brewed tea. Have an iPhone or iPod touch? Check out my latest obsession “Sleep Cycle.” This app monitors your sleep cycles, waking you up at your most awake state, all for just 99 cents. Plus, looking at graphs of your sleep is really fun.
Remember, caffeine is your friend, but so is sleep. Good luck on your finals, and have a great time partying after that last test!