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High School Exams: Get Some Sleep!

Updated on January 25, 2019
Christina St-Jean profile image

I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies, and LGBT advocacy.

Exam Preparation


Study And Sleep - Yes, It's Possible!

The other night while training at karate, a high school student I know asked me for some tips on how to stay up late at night. I'm the last person anyone should ask about that, and I told the young man that. I was completely incapable of pulling an all-nighter when I was in university without being overcome by nausea from lack of sleep, and since having children, I have found it nearly impossible to stay up past 10 pm without yawning my face off.

However, it's exam time for high school students, as many who are on a semestered timetable know. Finals are one of the roughest times of the year for both students and teachers as there are back to back exams and a whole ton of information to review. However, there are many people who think that staying up all night is going to help them get through the week.

I understood, to a certain extent, my friends in university who would be up all night prepping for exams like their med school or law school entrance exams. These are exams that might be spread out over a couple of days, or they might be hours long at the very least, so there's a lot of pressure happening because if they don't do exceptionally well, they don't get into the school of their choice. However, when I see kids in Grade 9, 10, 11 or even Grade 12 trying to function on three hours of sleep, I become very concerned.

These are kids who are still undergoing development, and as most adults know, your brain does not work at its best if you do not have enough sleep. As evidence of that, look at the signs that pop up from time to time along the side of the highway - at least, I've seen them while driving through various places in Canada. In essence, these signs caution drivers that if they are fatigued, they should really get off the road as they are becoming a danger to other drivers as well as themselves. Certainly, you aren't operating heavy machinery while taking a high school exam - at least, you shouldn't be - but my point is, your brain is not functioning at the capacity it should when you've only had 3 hours or so of sleep.

Also, what's to be gained from staying up all night? While I understand that a student's mental health might pose particular challenges in getting enough sleep prior to an exam, at the very least, we all need proper rest. When you don't get enough sleep, your brain won't function to the best of its ability, and what good is that when you're writing an exam that could be worth anywhere from 10 to 30 percent or more of your final grade?

Not only that, there are health repercussions of not getting enough rest. According to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, "Research shows that not getting enough sleep, or getting poor-quality sleep, increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes." Granted, the focus here is likely on routine sleep deprivation or sleep loss, but one would assume that it's probably not that great for you to try and study all night and go to school the next day.

It's also dangerous to be sleep deprived. One of the biggest rites of passage for teens is getting a drivers' license. Imagine, if you will, a teenager staying up all night studying - or, at the very least, trying to study til 2 o'clock in the morning and then only getting about 4 hours or less of sleep (considerably less than the ideal 9 and a quarter hours that Nationwide Children's Hospital says is necessary) - and then driving to school to write a final exam. The kid is beyond tired, trying to be mindful of the rules of the road and watchful of people who aren't so wary of those around them, and suddenly, due to their extreme fatigue, misses the light changing from green, to amber, to red. They blow a stop light, and worse still, get into a car accident because their reflexes were sufficiently slowed by fatigue to make their response time far greater than it should have been.

Listen, I understand that teenagers will generally go to bed later and try and sleep as late as possible, but more often than not, they're attending high school when they're already sleep deprived. Part of this is because of the increased workload that high school brings, but part of this is the underlying thought that they should be up til all hours studying for exams when in reality, that helps no one.

Some potentially helpful sleep aids include taking melatonin, a hormone that our body naturally produces to help with sleep. A machine that produces white noise might also be helpful for those who need a little background noise to sleep effectively. Putting phones away two hours or more before your intended bedtime has also been shown to be helpful - read for a little bit instead. There are countless other sleep remedies, and there is, no doubt, an ideal one for each of us.

So kids, if you want to really be successful during exams, try to avoid all-nighters. Instead, realize that your body needs rest in order to do well, and try and at the very least relax prior to bed - a tall order, I know, during exams, but you'll be grateful that you at least tried.


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