New Study Shows Students' Sleep Significantly Suffers before Exams

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Updated  Daniel Je - OneClass

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Our Findings

Students across the world are about to begin (or are currently in) their exam season. The exam season is a time where students nervously and frantically prepare themselves to get the best grade they can get in their exams which can sometimes even be worth 100% of their grade. Since it's a peak stressful time for students, one must wonder how much it can actually impact students' sleep and attitude. Since this kept us up at night, much like exam-prep for students, we decided to run a survey with 159 students (and counting) to see how exactly exams and exam stress affects students during this stressful season. And as a bonus, we have 10 Ways on How to Reduce Stress During Exam Season from students themselves at the end of this article!

Here are some of our key survey findings: -During exams, NO respondent sleeps 10 hours or more BUT when students finish their last exam, 46% of them sleep 10-12 hours that same night. -40% of respondents sleep 6 hours or less on a typical night but this percentage almost doubles to 69% during exam season. -78% of students feel nervous/stressed immediately before an exam The survey we used is actually still ongoing and collecting responses and will be consistently updated with new data so we invite you to fill it out so we can present more incredibly interesting findings for you! Take the 3-minute Exams-Effect Survey

When we first looked at the data, we looked at the total average sleep of all respondents between average sleep on a typical night vs. average sleep during exam season. The amount was 6.7 hours and 5.7 hours, respectively. Although at first glance, the difference may not seem that significant, one thing to note is that sleep becomes considerably more variable during finals - students will cycle between extreme sleep restriction and sleep rebound more than normal, which could explain why the averages are somewhat similar. Regardless, we dug a little deeper and found some very interesting insights.

Sleep: During & Immediately after Exams

Exam Buronout is never a Pleasant Experience

Regarding students' sleep during and immediately after exams, as we mentioned, we found that the average amount of sleep during exam season is 5.7 hours. We then asked how much sleep they get immediately after their last exam and we found that the average was 9.2 hours. Meaning that on average, students sleep 3.5 hours less during exam season than immediately after they finish their last exam.

How many hours of sleep do you get immediately after your last exam?
Avergae hours of sleep per night during exam season

Diving a little deeper into sleep during exams vs. immediately after their last exam, we found that 46% of respondents slept for 10-12 hours immediately after their last exam while 0% (NO ONE) slept even 10 hours during exam season. This just goes to show how long and hard students study during this incredibly busy season and how much sleep they need to catch up on once it's finished.

Sleep: Typical Night and During Exams

Exam Stress doesn't make it easier to answer your alarlm clock in the morning

When it comes to sleep on a typical night and during exam season, we found some significant differences as well.

How many hours of sleep do you get per night (on average)?
Average length of sleep during exam season

Firstly, 40% of respondents sleep 6 hours or less on a typical night but this percentage almost doubles to 69% during exam season. This shows that a significantly larger number of students are getting less sleep when exam season hits.

What time do you usually go to sleep?
What time to you go to sleep during exam season?

Secondly, the most common time to sleep on a regular night was found to be 12am among respondents but it extends to 2AM during exam season. Since 8AM was found to be the most common time to wake up on a regular night AND during exam season, most students are sleeping 2 hours less during exam season. It's clear that exams are causing a significant drop in sleep hours most likely due to students cramming and frantically preparing for exams in such a short period of time.

Stress: During Exams

Sleepless is a real challenge for those sitting exams.

When it comes to how exams affect students' attitude, we've found a couple of very interesting initial insights.

How do you feel before an exam?

78% of students feel nervous/stressed immediately before an exam. This means that in a room of 100 students about to take an exam, 78 of them will be feeling very nervous/stressed which can have a serious negative impact on their mental health if they're experiencing this 10 times a year every single year (assuming the average student takes has 5 exams per semester). On the other side of the coin, we found that 20% of respondents actually feel calm and excited before their exams. Of course, it's expected that exams will cause stress and nervousness to the strong majority of students but seeing a number as big as 20% shows that there are more students like this than one would assume. Maybe the 78% can get some tips from this 20%.

How do you feel after an exam?

When students finish their exams, 69% feel relieved/calm immediately after, which is expected, but 22% still feel nervous/stressed. One common reason why they still feel nervous/stressed is because they then become worried about how they did and nervous about what grade they'll receive. Another reason why they feel this way is because they likely still have more exams to write shortly after finishing their first one. This shows that the exams itself is not the only stressor; worrying about their grade and how they performed, and worrying about their next exam are two significant factors that can pile on even more stress for students around the globe.

10 Ways on How to Reduce Stress During Exam Season

Here's some student's advice on how to reduce stress during exam season

We also asked students what tips or advice they'd give to other students on how to reduce stress during exam season. Here are 10 recommendations from students for students:

"Meditating, deep breaths, drinking a warm drink" - Bio Sci Student

"Eat enough healthy food and drink lots of water" - Psychology Student (just like we mentioned in our 7 tips on how to stay healthy during exams!)

"Take good notes during the year and go to lectures so you're more confident in what you know. Attend the last class of the semester where exam review occurs and ask your prof any questions you may have" - Architectural Science Student

"Be around people who support you and find friends to hang out with in between studying" - Business Administration Student

"While studying I organize my things and make a schedule of what I am going to study and when. It keeps me on track and it helps me to stay focused and calm. Before an exam I try not to think of anything and I don't talk about the exam before the exam because that makes me really nervous." - Science Student

"During exam season, exercise and keep active to reduce stress and fight before some self-talk & deep breaths" - Humanities Student

"During Exams: Study further in advance, eat consistent meals, study with friends (only after studying by yourself). After Exams: sleep, know you did the best you could and you can't change the outcome now, hang out with friends, eat a home cooked meal" - Life Sciences Student

"When the pressure/stress is too high, go for a walk/fresh air" - Accounting Student

"Study in small increments leading up to your exam to avoid cramming. As hard as it is, carve out time (it can be as small as 10-15 minutes) to take a break, go for a walk, etc." - Communications Student

"Instead of thinking of the grades you'll get, think of the incentive as simply learning the content and how it can be applied to your life and others' lives." - Psychology Student

Without research, it can be reasonably expected that students will sleep less during exams and they'll be stressed going into their exams. But, with research, we can see exactly how much students' sleep suffers during exam season and exactly how many students feel nervous/stressed going into their exams; and even see how many students are the opposite and feel excited going into their exams. So a question arises: if students are losing so much valuable sleep during this hectic time, should taking exams be reconsidered altogether? Michael Scullin, an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Baylor University and Director of the Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory says that exams should be kept but they should be cumulative. "That's best for learning because it distributes practice and capitalizes on the "testing effect." For the last couple years, I've made all my tests cumulative and the feedback is always the same: students are more intimidated by Test 2, but they feel better and are better prepared by the final exam." Michael Scullin, Assistant Professor, Baylor University

Exam time is always going ot have student's juggling their responsibilities

Of course, it can be argued that students do this to themselves by leaving their preparation and studying to the last minute. However, it's rare to find students who are on top of their school work week by week due to other commitments they have such as work, family, extra-curriculars, and even their social life; because at the end of the day, students are young and growing and want to experience new things during school. Maybe our next research topic will be on how many students stay on top of their school work during the semester, and how they balance all of their commitments, you'll only know if you stay tuned to follow along and gain some valuable insights for your learning! Also, for any students out there, we invite you to fill out our survey below, it'll only take 3 minutes and since this article will be consistently updated with new data, it'll allow us to present some really cool findings for you that you can tell all your friends about.

Remember to keep the mentioned tips in mind to do your best in your exams! To prepare you for final exams we got you covered here too, check out these 25 tips on how to write any type of exam! Best of luck, you can do this!

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