Should I study for another hour or get a good night’s sleep? Sleep is always the best choice. To see why that is, let’s start with a question.
What is the purpose of studying? The ultimate purpose is to get a good grade on an exam. To achieve that, you need to commit material to memory, and develop a good understanding of how that material fits together in a coherent way. As you begin to master the material, you want to anticipate and write likely exam questions. For information to move from short-term memory to long-term understanding, it needs to be consolidated. Consolidation happens during sleep. With no sleep, there no consolidation of memories.
People who are sleep-deprived face several disadvantages. They cannot sustain focused attention. They cannot learn efficiently. They cannot consolidate memories effectively. They make poor decisions. Sleep is not just what you do at the end of the day. It is part of effective learning, and should be viewed as such.
How much sleep do you need? Research shows that people who get more than 7 hours of sleep the night before an exam do about 10% better than those that get less than 7 hours. However, your results may vary. You might be a person that needs a little more sleep. For example, I can do okay on 7 hours. My performance is impaired when I get less. But my performance is much better when I get more than 8 hours.
Sleep is part of my learning strategy, and it should be part of yours as well.