Study sessions that go on well into the evening, or through the night, are common fall-back options for students feeling the pressure of looming exams or deadlines. But they do much more harm than good. Here’s why…
Over the past century, there have been numerous studies that shine a spotlight on the relationship between long working hours and decreased productivity. Here’s a few examples…
During World War I, the Health of Munition Workers Committee discovered that labour output significantly decreased after 50 hours work a week. Similarly a 2013 study conducted by John Pencavel of Stanford University revealed that there was absolutely no productivity increase between a 55 and a 70 hour working week; rendering the extra 15 hours of work entirely pointless.
Although these studies were conducted on manual workers, the principal can also be applied to studying. And especially to students who are juggling their studies with family life or a job.
Fatigue and increased stress levels
And it’s not just a drop in productivity you need to consider; overworking can have significantly detrimental effects on other areas of your life…
Experts all agree that getting between seven and nine hours sleep every night is vitally important to mental and physical health; both in the short and long terms. If you regularly work late into the night you’re in danger of damaging your circadian rhythm (or sleeping cycle). Here’s why that’s a problem:
- During sleep, memories are consolidated, which is why you’re able to recall information you learnt from the day before more clearly than if you’d only snatched a few hours kip. It’s because during sleep, the brain commits information from a place where memories are temporarily stored (the hippocampus) to the neocortex, where they become more permanent and much harder to overwrite.
- Sleep deprivation makes it harder to concentrate. So, on top of finding it harder to recall facts and figures from yesterday’s revision, after pulling a late-night session, you’re less likely to be able to focus on today’s tasks.
- The stress hormone cortisol is released in high quantities when the body is lacking in sleep, which can damage your ability to focus, as well as impair decision making and creativity.
“When you’re sleep deprived your ability to process new information drops, your ability to deal with distraction is impaired, and your short-term memory declines,” said Professor Michael Chee, director of the centre for cognitive neuroscience at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore. “All the fundamental elementals of having to process information rapidly are diminished.”
So, pulling an all-nighter is certainly not a good idea the night before an exam or deadline.
And it’s not just sleep that’s affected… long working hours can also damage social life, leading to increased stress levels and feelings of isolation.
How to avoid overworking
The most effective way to ensure you don’t overwork yourself – and damage your productivity and mental health in the process – is to create a comprehensive study/life timetable. Although we understand there are many students who have to work long hours due to other commitments, making sure you get between seven to nine hours rest per night, and scheduling in time for family, friends, exercise, hobbies and extra-curricular work – as well as study periods – is vital in maintaining healthy productivity levels and emotional wellbeing.
Take a look at our blog Maintaining a healthy study/life balance for more tips on how to do this.