Teenagers are being robbed of vital sleep as they cram in up to 14-plus hours of exam revision each week.
With Easter about to mark the official start of the dreaded revision season for 2015 spring/summer exams, The Sleep Council has discovered that a good night’s sleep is the first thing to suffer. In the month leading up to exams, the number of teenagers who have just five to six hours sleep a night doubles from 10% to 20%.
Some 83% of teenagers admit their sleep is affected by worry and stress over exams with 18% saying they struggle to fall asleep, 28% waking up more frequently, 28% waking earlier and 10% affected by all three symptoms.
More than a third (34%) say they revise for 8 -10 hours a week while more than one in 10 (11%) spend in excess of 14 hours a week doing so.
Said Lisa Artis of The Sleep Council: “The next few weeks will see teenagers across Britain studying for school exams and while we are aware that the exam period itself has a major impact on sleeping habits, we wanted to take a closer look at the effect the revision run-up period has on sleep.
“Our research shows that a worryingly high number of teenagers are not getting as much sleep as they need to function and perform at their best in the build up to exams. They are sacrificing sleep to study when in fact they might be more mentally alert cramming in extra sleep rather than more revision.
“There’s a growing body of evidence* that demonstrates how much the sleep we get impacts on how we perform. A good night’s sleep triggers changes in the brain that helps to improve memory, meaning you’ll be much better able to remember what you learnt the day before.”
The study of over a thousand 13 – 18-year-olds found that more than half (56%) admitted to regularly cramming all their revision for an exam into one night.
While they may not be sleeping in their beds as much as they should when in the throes of exam studies, more than four out of five (82%) teenagers said it was their preferred location for doing revision work. More than a third (35%) said they do so because it’s a great place to spread out their papers and books.
Said Lisa: “We know that a good bed is a comfortable and comforting place to be, but we would rather students sleep in it than study on it!
“It’s really important to associate the bed with sleeping rather than revising. Where possible, try to zone areas of the bedroom so that there is an entertainment zone for play, a work space for studying and a sleeping area for quiet and rest.
“A good night’s sleep is one of the most important tools for doing well in your studies. Lack of sleep can end up clouding judgement or increasing the number of mistakes made. Students need to get at least six to eight hours of sleep a night, particularly on the night before an exam.”
The most common way teenagers stay awake to study is by listening to music (52%), eating chocolate (34%) and drinking energy/caffeine drinks (26%). And almost half (46%) find themselves snacking more often when revising.
Said Lisa: “Loss of sleep, increased caffeine consumption and unhealthy snacking are sure-fire ways to create a less than optimal exam-time performance.”
The Children’s Sleep Charity, which works with teenagers and their families, has helped The Sleep Council to produce its new Good-Night Guide for Children along with a new micro site aimed directly at teenagers. The leaflet is available from The Sleep Council (leaflet line 0800 018 7923) and the teens site can be found at www.teen-sleep.org.uk
Victoria Dawson of The Children’s Sleep Charity said: “This research is incredibly important to help to raise national awareness regarding the importance of sleep for teens. Teenagers cannot meet their full potential when they are sleep deprived. Attainment in school can be impaired if the correct amount if sleep is not gained.”
As they battle through the most stressful few weeks of the school year, The Sleep Council has some tips for surviving The Exam Weeks:
• BE PREPARED. The best way to manage stress and anxiety around exam time is to be as prepared as possible. Draw up a rough ‘revision timetable’ of what you need to revise when to ensure every subject is covered – and stick to it!
• SLEEP WELL. Most teenagers need at least eight to nine hours of sleep every night – so no pulling an all-nighter to cram for an exam! Lack of sleep results in poor coping strategies for managing stress and ‘fuzzy’ thinking. The best bet by far is to study often and in advance and build in a good rest before the big day. Sleeping on a comfortable, supportive bed can really help with a good night’s sleep.
• GET PHYSICAL. Physical exertion provides an outlet for mental stress. Let off some steam by walking, running, getting involved in a sport etc. Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime!
• PRIORITISE. The sheer amount of revision to be done can sometimes seem overwhelming. Set priorities and work on the most urgent first. Break tasks down into manageable chunks and set goals that are reasonable.
• PRACTICE A RELAXATION TECHNIQUE. Relaxation techniques can help to create a sense of calm and are simple to perform in the bedroom without any special equipment. Deep breathing with your eyes closed is a simple way to remedy stress. Focus on your breath as you deeply inhale and exhale.
• CHANGE THE SCENERY. Persistence is key when it comes to studying, but a change of scenery can reduce stress levels. Head outdoors to breathe in some fresh air and, if possible, take a walk. Sprucing up your space such as changing posters around or tidying your room is another way to change the scenery when you can’t break away.
• SOCIALISE – A LITTLE! Getting together with friends is another healthy way to blow off steam and chat with others who know just how you feel. Sometimes just being around other people who understand is enough to feel better – at other times, talk about your stress and ask for help from family and friends.
• EAT WELL. Stress eating can seriously disrupt healthy eating habits. Ditch the chocolate and crisps and keep healthy, easy-to-eat snacks around such as nuts, fresh fruit or raw vegetables.
• POSTIVE SELF-TALK. Thoughts, feelings, and behaviour are connected so it’s important to monitor self-talk, focus on the present, set realistic goals, and remain appropriately optimistic.
– Those who reached deeper stages of sleep showed a better command of flexible thinking – a vital cognitive skill that allows us to apply old facts and information to new situations. (City University of New York 2012)
– Some people’s brains are busy learning even when they are asleep and those who had a good night’s sleep could recall information better. People with good working memories are more likely to replay material in the brain at night and therefore remember it better in the long term. (Michigan State University)
– Women who slept five hours or less had lower scores on standard memory tests than those who slept for five hours. But too much sleep is a bad thing as those who got nine or more hours of sleep performed worse on memory tests compared to those who slept seven hours. (Elizabeth Devore, ScD of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, 2012)
– The brain evaluates memories during sleep and preferentially retains the ones that are most relevant. The brain’s prefrontal cortex ‘tags’ memories deemed relevant while awake and the hippocampus consolidates these memories during sleep. (The Journal of Neuroscience, February 2011)
– Losing sleep erodes concentration and problem-solving ability. Each hour of sleep lost per night is associated with a temporary loss of 1 IQ point. (Stanley Coren, University of British Colombia, 1999)
Note to editors:
The research for The Sleep Council was conducted by Atomik Research from 4th March – 6th March 2015, by an online sample of 1,000 teenagers aged 13-18 based in the UK.