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Healthy Minds Healthy College

All Nighters: Not worth Losing Sleep Over?

April 26, 2012

Photo: Microsoft Office clip art

This is not so funny if you are a student at exam time.

Which brings us to all-nighters. Do they work?

Quite simply, no, according to psychiatrist Robert Stickgold at Harvard Medical School. His research suggests that we need six hours of sleep to remember newly learned material effectively.

It seems our brains use the first two hours (slow wave sleep), to store long-term memories. After that, the brain sorts and files the knowledge and really plants it. Interrupt this, and the knowledge just won’t stick. The last two hours are spent in REM (rapid-eye-movement) sleep. This is also when dreams occur. The brain reviews what it has learned and strengthens the many connections between nerve cells that reinforce memory.

Your mother was right. Even if you pull off an all-nighter and manage to grind out those passing marks, it is unlikely you will retain this knowledge for a significant length of time.

Just ask What’s-his-name.