Cramming for exams is a fixture of high school and college life, which offers many distractions that make it easy to avoid studying until the last minute. However, cramming also carries numerous negative consequences for your own emotional, mental and physical well-being. Perhaps the biggest argument against cramming is its potential for permanently altering brain chemistry, which reduces your long-term ability to cope with a challenging academic and professional environment.
Cheating your body of sleep isn't worth it academically, according to a University of California, Los Angeles study released in August 2012. The researchers asked 535 high school students to document their lives over a 14-day period, including their performance on homework assignments, quizzes and tests. Overall, students experienced more academic problems after prolonged bouts of sleeplessness. As the researchers note, additional data shows average sleeping times decline from 7.6 to 6.9 hours per night as high school progresses -- making a consistent academic performance less likely.
Cramming routines work against the memorization of key ideas, which students eventually associate with a particular place and time, according to The American Psychological Association. If the ideal setting is an all-night marathon, you're less likely to remember what you've just learned since the brain retrieves knowledge at different times, the APA's analysis states. Instead, adopt a consistent studying schedule with periodic rest breaks, which reinforces your overall comprehension and retention abilities.
Students often view cramming as a necessary evil to focus themselves before an exam. In reality, the opposite effect occurs, according to Jennifer Carson, a health and wellness specialist. Cramming puts your body under extreme physical and psychological stress, making it less likely that you'll concentrate and interpret test questions accurately, Carson asserts. Studying in advance and taking rest breaks yields better results.
One of the more commonly voiced rationales for cramming is the idea that you can sleep less without drastically affecting your health. However, skimping on sleep gives your brain less time to recover from stress, asserts Seung-Schik Yoo from Harvard Medical School. According to Yoo, chronic sleep deprivation permanently alters brain chemistry, leaving students vulnerable to exaggerated emotional responses, impaired memory and long-term cognitive damage.
Unhealthy Eating Patterns
Students who habitually pull down caffeine-fueled all-nighters are more likely to skip meals or choose empty-calorie, high-fat snacks that literally starve the body and brain of the energy that it needs to function effectively, the APA's analysis indicates. Skipping healthier alternatives like fresh fruits and vegetables -- or foods shown to improve memory and brain function, like kiwi fruit, salmon and walnuts -- only aggravates the problem.
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