Tips: Exam Performance and Sleep

by David Egan on June 9, 2011

girl studying in classroomExam time is an extremely stressful period in your child’s life. There is enormous pressure on them to do well and to study more. They may be tempted to stay up late cramming, or they may be so stressed they have difficulty dropping off to sleep.

Disturbed sleep patterns will have a bad effect on your child’s performance and could even affect their health.

When students are sleep deprived, they learn slower, forget more and make poor judgements.This means they won’t study effectively and they won’t perform at their best in their exams.

Sleep on It!

The advice “Sleep on it” isn’t just an old wives tale: sleep helps the brain to organise information and embed it into memory. Rather than cramming all night, it is more beneficial to encourage your child to review their notes, get a good night’s sleep, wake up an hour earlier than usual and review the notes again.

Food to Help you Sleep

Avoid cocoa, tea and coffee as they contain caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant which can affect a person for up to 6 hours after it has been drunk -  so limit these drinks from lunch time onwards. Remember some fizzy drinks such as cola contain caffeine, and discourage the use of energy drinks as these will interfere with your child’s sleep patterns.

Try to avoid serving large meals just before bedtime if you’re child is too full they will feel uncomfortable and digesting food will keep them awake.

Try offering smaller  evening snacks with foods such as turkey, tuna, chicken, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and cottage cheese: these foods contain tryptophan, an amino acid that calms the brain.


Routine is vital for good sleep. Make sure your young adult’s bedtime routine is the same every evening. During revision and exam time encourage them go to bed and wake at the same time each day, including weekends. If your child has a bedtime ritual, like reading, encourage them to stick to it.

Wind Down

Studying right up until bedtime is a bad idea – students should get away from the books for a while to unwind properly. Suggest that they watch their favourite TV programme, go for a walk, chat to friends and family, or get some exercise. Get them in to the habit of packing away their notes and books at the end of the day so they aren’t tempted to have a sneaky peek before bedtime.

Turn Off the TV…

TV watching before bedtime is generally a bad idea, as TV disrupts sleep patterns. Listen to relaxing music or read a book instead. See our TV Tips article for more advice on TV.

Just Before Bed…

Some people find that a warm bath or shower and a cup of warm milk before bedtime helps them to feel relaxed and sleepy. It is best to keep their bedroom on the cool side – this way they will be happy to snuggle under the covers. Keep the lights dim or off – exposure to light keeps you awake.

What to do if You Can’t Sleep

If your child really can’t sleep, tell them not to panic. One of the worst things they can do is to lie awake stressed out about not sleeping. Studies show that if you lie calmly and try to relax, you won’t experience any major problems the next day. If they really can’t drop off to sleep, suggest that they lie quietly in a darkened room, listen to some relaxing music at low volume or try reading a book (nothing too interesting). Avoid TV, computers, mobile phones and laptops – the light emitted by these devices will send a “wake-up” signal to the brain.

Remember there is life after the exams and though it may seem tough during them they don’t last forever. Follow our simple guidelines for a healthy lifestyle during exams and you can ensure that your child can make the most of all their hard work.

Does your child have trouble sleeping during exam time? Do you have any suggestions on how we can help our children during this stressful period of their lives? Please share your ideas in the comments box below.

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