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That All-nighter Isn’t Helping

Remember college?
by Caitlin Schiller | Oct 6 2014

Those hectic sprints toward the finish line, marked by late night study sessions, bad food, and mostly fruitless attempts at interpreting miles of your own garbled handwriting from bygone months? What stands out most from that period probably isn’t whatever you learned, but rather the sleepless nights. Lifestyle choices may render working in such sleepless sprints necessary, but working this way isn’t actually so effective. Here’s why.

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When asleep, our brains are not actually relaxing. They’re busy processing the day’s events and trying to store and make sense of the information we’ve taken in during our waking hours. While we’re sleeping, all of the experiences and memories from the day are integrated into our existing database – which explains why things that happen during the day sometimes make cameos in dreamland.

Daniel Levitin’s The Organized Mind asserts that getting enough sleep is one of the best ways to be more effective. He cites studies that have demonstrated we’re twice as likely to find a solution to a tough problem or come up with new ideas for a project after we’ve slept on it. Why? Our brains, with their magnificent nighttime processing power, are busy plugging away at the unresolved questions of the day.

And now, the rub: only 2.5% of people feel well-rested after fewer than seven hours of sleep, yet for most of us, banking even those seven hours is a challenge. Sometimes, you absolutely can’t miss out on an hour of work time. What do you do in these occasions? Here are two ways to sleep that help you make the most of the late nights (and the early mornings) that your career won’t let you avoid:

Sleep to Tackle Creative Projects: You’ve heard of REM sleep – the kind that’s critical to creative thinking. The time you’re most likely to drop into REM is in the early morning. If you need a creative solution tomorrow, it’s better to stay up late for finishing touches, then hit the hay for early-morn REM so you wake up (at least slightly) more creative.

Sleep to Tackle Fact-Based Challenges: The stage of sleep most important for consolidating facts occurs mostly in the first hours. If you need to remember certain dates, names, or vocabulary terms, it’s actually better get to bed early and wake up early to review in the morning.

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