The cure to late night studying

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By Shreya Vaidhyanathan, Co-Webmaster We’ve all been there: it’s way past midnight and you’re practically falling asleep, but you have to get this essay done. Even though you’re yawning between every sentence, you resolve to stay awake. Instead of losing out on sleep and struggling your way through homework at two in the morning, here’s...

By Shreya Vaidhyanathan, Co-Webmaster

We’ve all been there: it’s way past midnight and you’re practically falling asleep, but you have to get this essay done. Even though you’re yawning between every sentence, you resolve to stay awake. Instead of losing out on sleep and struggling your way through homework at two in the morning, here’s another option: going to sleep early and finishing homework in the morning. And I’m not talking about sleeping from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.; when I plan to wake up at 4 a.m. to do work, I am usually in bed by 8 p.m.

While many high schoolers stay up to finish their homework, resulting in three to five hours of sleep, sleeping and waking up early is a better alternative to staying up. According to research conducted at MIT, “productivity is higher in the morning than the afternoon,” and this phenomenon can be utilized to complete more work within a shorter time period. Working on a well-rested mind makes the process much easier and eliminates the possibility of running on too little sleep.

My process is simple: on days that I go to sleep early, my alarm is set anywhere from 3 a.m.  to 4 a.m.  the next morning. A study at Penn State found that because our brain is already active during the day, the full extent of our cognitive function is impaired by nightfall, meaning that doing schoolwork in the morning is both healthier and more productive than late nights.

In the early morning, the amount of distractions decrease exponentially: no new texts, Snapchat stories or Instagram posts. You are ready to go into work mode as soon as you wake up, and your subconscious is simply not awake enough to be distracted by notifications from the night before. Although I don’t do anything differently while actually studying, the illusion of being the only person awake makes it much harder to get distracted. 

Waking up that early also comes with an intrinsic motivation — a kind of pressure that pushes you to stay productive. You don’t want waking up at 4 a.m. to have been in vain, so you automatically use the time more efficiently than you would if you had stayed up until 2 a.m. After a full day of activities, you are bound to get distracted or sleepy; between power naps and FaceTimes, uninterrupted work is nearly impossible past midnight. 

To use this study habit effectively, make everything as easy as possible to get started with work immediately in the morning. Whether that means opening your math textbook to the right page, or having “Scarlet Letter” bookmarked and on your bedside table, having your to-do’s for the next morning laid out will make your life so much easier. These simple preparations make it so that all you have to do in the morning is your actual homework, rather than wasting time on planning or flipping pages.

Although waking up early has its benefits, some might point out the tendency in teenagers to be “night owls,” staying up and sleeping in. Important as circadian rhythm is, school starts much too early to be consistent with waking up in the late morning anyway, so getting eight hours of sleep should be prioritized. No matter the recommended sleep cycle for adolescents, staying up does not allow you the necessary amount of sleep.

Ultimately, homework time from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. will be infinitely more productive than from midnight to 3 a.m. If you want more sleep and increasingly productive work time, try setting your alarm for 4 a.m. just once to see if doing homework in the morning works better for you. There isn’t a one size fits all solution, but getting more sleep and spending overall less time on homework might be worth getting in bed before nine.


Shreya Vaidhyanathan can be reached at [email protected]

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