Need a way to get good grades efficiently? Most people will say: Study as long as you can! Sleep is for the weak! Drink coffee and you’re good to go! All-nighters are an extremely common way to study, especially in college where it seems to be ‘common knowledge’ that to get good grades you sleep less. To put it simply, that is absolutely not the way to go.
Let’s use a personal case study example: my two roommates. Last year I had a roommate who stayed up until 1-2 am every night working and studying. In comparison, my roommate this semester turns off the light at exactly 10 pm. Exactly. No matter if I’m doing work or not. But between the two of them, the one that seemingly has less time (the current roommate) gets higher grades. And, since the lights are out, I’ve been going to bed earlier (instead of buying a lamp—cheap I know). I have noticed myself getting a better memory which has helped my studies.
But you didn’t open this to hear another article about how sleeping helps your memory because it keeps you refreshed and focused (which is true !!). You came because you want to study, get good grades, and sleep at the same time.
There can’t be a way for that, can there? Spoiler alert: there is.
Years ago, when I was still trying to learn Spanish, I heard that if you play an audio recording of the language while you sleep you will be able to recognize the sounds and the words when you’re awake. I thought that was stupid and never did it. And, growing up, my dad said don’t play on your phone, just repeat your notes over and over in your head as you sleep. Again, I thought it was stupid and stayed up far too late on my phone. But after reading Dr. Cleary’s article, I started to realize how much of an idiot I was. We aren’t dead when we sleep, our brain is still active, so why can’t it learn?
Deep sleep (also known as slow-wave sleep) is a great way to get energized for the next day—the more time in deep sleep then the more awake you are later. But also, deep sleep is a time for the brain to being memory processing. If an audio recording is played softly (so you don’t wake up) your brain will hear it and it will soak in like you are learning the info, adding it into the memory processing system it’s currently creating about the day. Think like in Disney’s movie Inside Out, when Riley went to sleep her memories were all rolled into the long-term storage.
Unfortunately, you can’t learn new information while you are asleep. But remembering more is less you have to worry about when a big exam comes. Listening to audio while in deep sleep puts all of the information into long term memory without needing the fleeting working memory, since you actually aren’t awake and using it to work. And, due to Hermann Ebbinghaus’ learning curve, it is shown that it is easier to remember things after they’ve already been learned. So you are actually saving yourself hours of restudying the material over and over again by doing this simple process: create an audio file of your information (which is studying your information and literally teaching it to yourself), go to bed at a reasonable hour, put in your headphones, hit play, and then sleep. When you wake up, your brain will be ready and already primed with the previous info and ready for new information since it is in the recency effect—meaning its just learned the information.
Now, should you really just use an audio file for this study strategy? What if you can’t fall asleep with noise on? Dr. Cleary’s article mentioned a company called Zero with an app called SmartWake which could play sounds when you were only in deep sleep. Unfortunately, she updated her article saying that it went out of business. A way that cognitive science could be applied is if another app like it came out so that you won’t have to try and fall asleep with the noise of headphones, but instead, it recognizes when your brain is in deep sleep. But, until then, headphones seem to be the best bet, if only so your roommate doesn’t question what you do with your life listening to cog psych notes on repeat for hours.
So next time, instead of pushing yourself to have all-nighter after all-nighter and show up to the exam with caffeine injected into your veins, just sleep with some headphones in and play the audio recording you made to study. You’ll be asleep and remember more than you think.