My fellow college students, I have great news for those of you, who, like me, love getting good grades but love sleeping too. This new hack into getting better grades is literally going to sleep! Maybe that sounds farfetched, or too good to be true, but it really works! Now I know that when you’re really studying for something, sleeping doesn’t really seem like the right thing to do to improve your test scores. But as long as you study for a bit before you go to sleep, getting a full night of sleep will definitely help you do better on that final next week.
The secret behind this hack is cueing memories. Memory cues allow us to more easily retrieve memories. They are the question to be answered, to be filled in by our memories. For example, in recognition memory tests in which multiple options are presented, the options act as a memory cue to help you decide which answer is the correct one. This is why multiple choice exams always feel easier than short answer or essay-based exams, because your memory is being stimulated by cues in the test itself.
So where does sleep come into play? Sleep allows us to consolidate memories, making them more understandable, and, in the following case, solvable (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326805.php#2). For example, let’s imagine that you have an exam tomorrow. Picture your brain as a filing cabinet that you’ve been jamming files and files of information into. You’ve been putting in so much information that the files are jumbled and in a disarray. The next day during your exam, you look at a question and reach into your filing cabinet for the answer, but the cue from the question can’t generate the information properly because it’s lost in the mess you made the day before. Sleep is the solution. Sleep gives your brain the time to properly sort through the files of information you shoved in there, and organize them more neatly. So now when the question comes on the exam, the words are able to cue the right information you filed away the day before.
A recent study examined how sleep can influence problem solving. In this study, the researchers had 57 participants look over several puzzles and brain teasers, but not solve them. Each of the puzzles were accompanied their own unique sound. That night, as the participants slept, the researchers played half of the unique sounds for the participants as a noise level high enough that the participants would hear them, but not so loud as to wake them. The following morning, the participants were asked to solve the puzzles, and it turned out that the participants were able to solve 31.7% of the cued puzzles, as opposed to only 20.5% of the un-cued puzzles. (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797619873344?journalCode=pssa&). That’s a 55% improvement! To put this in more understandable terms, if, proportionally, 31.7% was equivalent to a grade of a 100, then 20.5% would be the equivalent to a 65. Yikes.
This study is a prime example of how cueing memories in sleep can improve problem solving abilities in waking. I think that this study did an excellent job of beginning the connection between memory cues during sleep and improved test performance, and paves a great path toward fully exploring this kind of study and memory aid. I would definitely like to see further studies in this area, as I, and many other students, could greatly benefit from some similar study practices.
I hope that this study tip can help some of you out! Remember to study up and get some sleep!