How much Sleep do you need Before an Exam? - Study or Sleep? (2023)

You are panic studying the nights before exams? Stop! Here is everything you need to know about the impact of sleep on your grades. Also, you will learn about the best strategy I use for having a perfect night of sleep before an exam.

Sleeping is important, so never underestimate the power it gives you for writing exams. In most cases, it’s even better than studying.

The quick answer: You need at least 8 hours of sleep before an exam. Anything less will decrease your concentration! Even if you spend the night studying, you will have problems finding logical conclusions and simple answers on your exam day. Your brain will be too tired to think properly.

Why Sleep Is Essential Before an Exam

What Happens While We Sleep

The process of sleeping is essential for your body. It refreshes you and gives you energy for the next day.

While you sleep, your body detoxes. That means it gets rid of all the waste products in your brain.

Matthew Walker, a famous sleep scientist says that these waste products are responsible for getting Alzheimer’s disease – a disease that causes memory loss and forgetfulness.

The substance is called beta-amyloid. Here’s an actual measurement of the harmful substance in your brain after a sleep-deprived night.

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As you can see, beta-amyloid accumulates in the hippocampus region of your brain. That’s the region that is responsible for learning and memory as neurologists constantly put it in one of their studies:

Hippocampus is a complex brain structure embedded deep into temporal lobe. It has a major role in learning and memory.

Department of Neurology, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, PGIMER- Guru Gobind Singh Indraprasth University

But what can you do about it?


During sleep, your body wipes away the harming beta-amyloid. Here’s how it looks like:

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Brain cells and neurons even form new connections at night. Think of these connections like an engravement of what you learned.

Everything you studied during the day gets “taped” to your brain’s memory so you won’t forget it.

To put it more precisely:

Your short-term memory learning achievements (which is very fuzzy and instable) get transferred to your long term memory.

It’s like a hard disk inside your brain which stores information that is difficult to forget.

When you sleep, you solidify what you’ve learned.

Also, your lungs and other important organs get a thorough clean. These effects are key to be able to perform at exam time.

What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough

If you disrupt the regeneration process executed while you sleep, all the waste and dirt (beta-amyloids) stays inside you.

Therefore the process of memory building and taping information to your brain stops.

Your brain reaches its limits soon when you don’t get enough sleep.

On top of that, you will feel really bad and tired when you wake up. Your body tells you it needs more sleep to regenerate but now it’s time to write an exam.

And also, a lot of what you studied last night is gone. Your body focuses on getting you through the day on a low energy level.

What is left is a piece of mashed brain and you with a really bad mood.

How Sleep Directly Affects Your Grades

A wise man, Dr. Keith Wilmore, medical director of the BYU Student Health Centersays students that don’t sleep enough face a higher risk of academic failure.

Students who sleep enough also get better grades at an exam than students that lack sleep.

That’s exactly what I experienced in my first semester. I was studying every night to get as good in my engineering classes as I can possibly be. The results were average.

After a year, in my third semester, I read a book that inspired me to spend less time studying and getting better sleep instead. I totally skyrocketed my results.

Not only did I get better grades and could sleep more. My free time also increased. By sleeping more, your brain has more time to store the information you studied.

Therefore going to bed one hour earlier every day instead of finishing your assignment can actually benefit you.

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Study Or Sleep The Night Before An Exam?

I saw many people on internet forums debating about going to bed or studying at night. Some were even considering pulling off all-nighters right before exam day.

Now let’s find out what benefits one hour of sleep has over one hour of studying.

Benefits Of Studying One More Hour

Let’s say you are not sure about a specific topic or you want to look up some formulas you need. And then you remember you forgot to take a look at another text your professor mentioned. And on top of that, a friend also messages you about a topic you totally forgot about.

You basically have a big pile of stuff to learn before your exam.

The upcoming night gives you lots of free time to accomplish everything you missed doing until now.

The last hours of studying can help you to get your information together and make you feel more secure about the next day.

Benefits Of Sleeping One Hour More

Why should you go to bed and sleep while others spend their time studying for that exam?

Let’s assume you studied about 80% of the topics of the exam. Your friends panic about trying to nail the last few percents down. They send you messages about the “difficult secret topic nobody understands” that will definitely come up in the exam.

While they are going crazy you have to do a little mindset shift. Don’t focus on the 20% you didn’t study. Focus on the 80% you already know about.

Calm down a bit and use that hour of sleep.

While your classmates try to fill their heads, your brain uses the time to build a memory of your knowledge.

Tomorrow you will be refreshed and able to perform effectively. At that time your classmates are tired and exhausted. Your ability to concentrate will be superior to theirs.

Study Or Sleep before an exam?

Studying the night before an exam gives you the opportunity to give your studying the last boost

Sleeping the night before an exam refreshes you and enhances your performance.

In my personal experience, I’d say studying the night before expands your knowledge by only 10% depending on how long you’ll stay up.That’s great, isn’t it? No!

Waking up tired and exhausted the next day decreases your concentration by at least 30%. So, in sum you are at -20% now (These numbers are made up, but you get the point). That’s what you got from studying all night.

You should go to sleep on time the night before an exam to solidify your chance to rock it!

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The Only Exception To Pull Off An All-Nighter

There’s just one situation in which I’d recommend to stay up late, sit down and study: If you didn’t prepare for the exam yet.

You won’t have another chance. But before a situation like this occurs, you should definitely take a look at ways to plan ahead. Planning your exam studies is key to success. I’d always study four weeks for 2 hours a day rather than studying 12 hours a day for three days.

If you have your exam tomorrow and you didn’t study yet then start studying now until you get exhausted and your head feels overloaded.

Then stop and try to just get it right tomorrow. Take it as a life lesson and don’t ever (never ever!) procrastinate to this extent again!

How Much Sleep Do You Need Before An Exam?

Now you already have a good foundation. You know about the benefits of sleep that are essential for your grade. Now I’ll tell you about two things, lack of sleep does to you that will convince you to go to bed early.

Why You Should Never Stay Up The Night Before An Exam

Lack of sleep is one of the main reasons for tragedies like crashing airplanes, sinking ships, and nuclear power plants blowing up. You don’t want to have your exam end in a tragedy as well.

Sleepless nights also result in a depressive mood. There are a lot of other health problems you’ll face after not having slept.

There are two important problems affecting your grades. Both are backed up by lots of studies:

  • You’ll lose the ability to memorize things.
  • Forgetfulness.

Not only are you not able to memorize new concepts for your upcoming exam, but you will also forget about the things you already learned about.

These two points take away all the justification for staying up the whole night before an exam.

Get A Full Night Of Sleep Before Your Exam (Sleep Is As Important As Studying)

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People always recommend getting 8 hours of sleep. Oftentimes, I still feel bad even after sleeping for 8 hours straight. I love to give myself some time puffer. And so should you.

About 9-10 hours of planned bedtime are best. That doesn’t mean you should sleep at that time. Turn off all your electronic devices, grab a book you enjoy (not your study material) and go to bed.

A night like this always beats nights of panic studying. Trust me. If you have to get up at 6 am, go to bed at 8-9 pm and try to sleep at 10 pm. Sound confusing? Take a look at the chart.

How To Plan Your Sleep Two Days Before The Exam

Two days before the exam, you can write down your sleep goals on a sheet of paper or a notebook. Your primary goal is to get 8 hours of sleep. As we all know 8 hours is the minimum requirement to feel energized the next morning.

And additionally, 8 hours of sleep ensure that your memory works properly.

Now does it make sense to just meet the minimum requirements? I don’t think so. Maybe your nervous or even anxious the night before and you can’t fall asleep.

I was researching and trying out the most effective strategies to get a good night of sleep every day. To have a surefire way to fall asleep the day before the exam, I wrote down all these strategies for you in this article.

Here are some examples of what to do before you sleep:

You should go to bed 2 hours earlier, turn all electronic light-emitting devices off. Take the time to read a book or meditate. If you can’t go to bed 2 hours earlier use the extra time to tidy your room. It’s important to do something that has nothing to do with your upcoming exam.

The idea of that time is to prevent you from panicking. Your classmates won’t text you about the exam and you will be able to calm down to have quality sleep.

Plan your studying so it won’t interfere with your sleep. Because on that last day you have to go to bed on time.

How To Spend Your Last 24 Hours Before An Exam

Now let’s take an in-depth look at what exactly to do the last 24 hours before the exam.

How Much Should You Study?

Ideally, on the last day before the exam, you have already studied most of what you need to get a good grade. Therefore you shouldn’t study for more than 4 hours. You’ve already accumulated a lot of knowledge about the topics in the last days.

Studying 10 hours straight on the last day will do more harm to you than good. In unlucky cases, you’ll get confused about a topic. That’s what often happened to me.

I was studying for my classes and really nailing everything down. On the last day, however, I took another look at my professor’s notes and I noticed topics I wasn’t really sure about.

And somehow, because of the huge workload on that day, my brain got confused. And then panic started rolling in. That’s what you have to avoid!

Your last day should be calm. Your memory and brain will passively prepare for the exam. Studying a few hours is OK, as long as you don’t panic and overload yourself. Panic studying is the main thing to avoid.

What To Eat and Drink

Often, I read about eating vegetables and drinking water to improve your studying. Because of that students often change their eating habits in exam time. Because vegetables are healthy and will provide you with a good amount of vitamins and minerals, they are often recommended.

However, I think that because your last few hours of studying should be calm and focused, you should eat whatever feels good to you.

If you want to eat chocolate, just do it. A lot of other websites tell you to avoid it, but feeling comfortable and avoiding panic the day before the exam is more important.

Drinking water is also a good idea. Always have a full bottle standing on your desk so you’ll never get dehydrated. Hydration helps your body function and improves your studying and also your sleep.

However, don’t drink a lot before going to bed. You don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night because you have to go to the toilet. Our main goal is still to get quality sleep to have energy the next day.

You should also take a look at foods you can eat in the evening that promote your sleep. These foods are called natural sleep remedies and they include:

  • chamomile tea
  • tart cherry juice
  • kiwi
  • yogurt

If you are curious whether you have such a natural sleep remedy at home, here’s a complete list of 47 Natural Sleep Remedies.

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Other Things To Do

Taking a short workout improves your blood flow and improves your sleep quality.

Air your room regularly to get some fresh oxygen into your study cave.

Read a book or meet friends. And at night use all the tips and tricks I collected for you in my better sleep guides.

Also, you can try to use a sleep mask and earplugs to improve your sleep quality.

What To Do The Morning Before An Exam

Wake up, don’t press the snooze button. You want that day to be a winning day, and pressing the snooze button already makes you lose. You’ve set yourself a goal to wake up at a specific time so don’t miss it.

Drink a big glass of water to rehydrate your body.

Take a shower. Showering in the morning is way more energizing than drinking a coffee.

On top of that, you can also have a coffee of course. Do whatever you feel like doing. Have a nice breakfast.

I have classmates telling me they ate just one banana before an exam and then they lack concentration.

You don’t want to miss grade points just because you’re hungry.


Key to your success is to plan ahead to not have to study the very last day. Or at least your studies mustn’t depend on your very last day’s work. I told you about why you should never study until late at night and never ever pull off an all-nighter before an exam.

You now know how to plan your last day to get enough sleep. Another main principle is to avoid panicking at all costs.

How much sleep do you need before an exam? Most people probably hoped to read something like “oh, 5 hours is enough” but it’s not. You should get an even more peaceful and relaxing night of 8 hours when you have to write an exam the next day.

Share your ideas and question in the comment section below and I’ll be glad to answer!

Also, you should definitely share this article with your panicking friends to calm them down in the future.



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