Is sleeping more important than studying?

Surely humans can’t function without sleep?! If you don’t get enough it affects your body, your brain and your emotions. But everyone needs different amounts - and studying is important for getting where you want to in life...

Get savvy about slumbering

Sleep deprivation

What would happen to you if you didn’t sleep? Take a look at what goes on in your body and brain when you don’t catch enough ZZZzzzzz...

But studying is absolutely critical to getting good grades. Sleeping can come after - right?

But studying is absolutely critical to getting good grades.  Sleeping can come after - right?

All-nighters: studying dream or body-destroying nightmare?

Embarking on a nocturnal study marathon is super tempting, especially right before exams. Unfortunately, our bodies hate it and our brains rebel against it. But what exactly happens? Well, here are just a few ways in which our bodies stage their silent sleepy protest when we pull an all-nighter...


Cramnesia attacks

There’s a bit of our brains called the hippocampus and its job is to replay all the stuff we’ve learned while we’re awake, which makes it all seep into our long-term memory. So no zeds, no recall. Simple as that.

Hippocampus areas of the brain

The Hippocampus region 

On top of that, sleep makes us produce a chemical compound called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP to its friends), which serves as the primary energy currency of the cell and produces energy in whichever part of our body that it is needed. But if we don’t sleep then we don’t make ATP - and if we don’t have enough ATP, the brain, which has high energy requirements, can't function properly. Worse still, you probably won’t even be able to get yourself sorted out because you won’t realise you’re not getting enough energy - the lack of ATP also affects your prefrontal cortex, which is the bit of the brain that helps you make good decisions and generally know what’s going on.

If that wasn’t enough, your brain also starts acting drunk if you don’t sleep enough. A study at the University of Poland revealed that staying awake for 20-25 hours has about the same effect as having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10%. This level is over the legal limit in the UK. Which basically means a fun combination of blurred vision, numbness and rubbish reflexes. Not ideal conditions for learning important stuff.

All-nighters are not the cortisol-ution

If you stay awake all night, your levels of a hormone called Cortisol go up. Cortisol’s job is to regulate lots of the things your body does, including your memory function. However, it’s also known as the stress hormone, as you make more of it when you’re anxious.  So, in the short term, it’s exactly what you’re after - a temporary increase in energy levels, better concentration and more alertness. What’s not to like? Well, the bad news is that it also causes havoc for your blood sugar levels and your blood pressure – and if you go without sleep for a long time, higher levels of Cortisol can bring a whole host of long-term bad stuff, including strokes, heart disease and depression.

While your Cortisol levels go up when you’re sleep-deprived, the number of immunity-boosting T-cells in your body go down. And to add insult to immune-system injury, we start to produce more inflammatory proteins (known to biochemists as Cytokines). Add these together and you’re a sitting duck for the common cold - and the more all-nighters you pull, the worse it gets. And one ever does their best in school lessons, essay-writing and exams when they’re sniffly and sick.

Even partial sleep deprivation causes havoc with your hormone production, and none so much as the gremlin Ghrelin which triggers hunger pangs. Your cramming craving won’t be for carrot sticks either - studies show you’re more likely to hanker after starchy high sugar and high-fat goodies. So now you’re tired, stressed, cranky, hungry, rocketing from sugar lows to highs and getting heavier and unhealthier in the process! Really not great study conditions.

Effects of sleep deprivationMedical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014


At the end of the day, sleep deprivation is a recognised method of torture! So whilst the occasional all-night study session is inevitable if you make them the rule rather than the exception it could spell disaster for your future success.

The magical power of sleep: 4 ways it helps your body

  1. It fights disease
    1. Although our bodies are very still when we’re sleeping, there’s a whole hive of activity going on inside. For example, sleep is when our endocrine system - which makes hormones that control things like our metabolism and our mood - has its big moment. While we’re asleep, it increases production of the hormone Prolactin, which is vital for a healthy immune system. People who don’t get enough sleep have a much higher risk of suffering from things like diabetes, heart disease, depression, or even cancer because their bodies haven’t had the chance to produce enough prolactin to keep them healthy.
  2. It helps you grow
    1. When you’re in the deepest cycle of sleep, your muscles are super relaxed - so more blood can flow into them and help the muscle tissue as it grows and repairs itself. This is also the phase of sleep where Somatotropin (the human growth hormone) is released and its job is cell reproduction and regeneration, so it’s pretty important in helping you grow and develop both physically and mentally.
  3. It improves your memory
    1. When you make a new memory - when something happens to you, or when you learn a new skill or piece of information - that memory is quite vulnerable at first. In order for it to really stick it needs to be strengthened and solidified - it’s called ‘memory consolidation’. And it’s when we’re asleep that this happens most effectively. Sleep sparks changes in the brain that solidify memories, strengthening connections between brain cells and transferring information from one brain region to another to find the best place for memory storage.
  4. It stops you becoming obese
    1. You’ve got two main hormones in your body that help regulate your eating habits: Leptin and Ghrelin. Leptin tells your brain when you're full, so it knows to start burning up everything you’ve just eaten and turn the calories into energy, and ghrelin tells your brain when you need to eat and also when to stop burning calories and store energy as fat for your body to use later on. When you sleep, your leptin levels go up and your ghrelin levels go down - your body knows you have plenty of energy (as sleeping doesn’t require much!) so there's no need to trigger feelings of hunger. But when you don’t get enough sleep you get too much Ghrelin and not enough Leptin, which makes your brain think you don't have enough energy and you need to eat something. So not only do you pick up food that your body doesn’t really need, but all the calories get stored as fat instead of burnt!

The powers of sleep

Oxford University's Teensleep Project is taking a close look at how much sleep young people should be getting and how it can affect them in school. Here they talk to a few students who go to a school with a later start time about how it's helping them in their lessons.


Like to stay up late and sleep most of the day? You’re not a vampire - you may have Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, a condition which means your body clock doesn’t work properly.

Like to stay up late and sleep most of the day? You’re not a vampire - you may have Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, a condition which means your body clock doesn’t work properly.

What makes you tick?

How do you know when it's time to go to sleep, or time to wake up? Take a look at how the natural sleep patterns of our bodies - called circadian rhythms - help us know what to do and when.

6 strange superstar sleepers

  1. Lady Gaga
    1. Stefani Germanotta (Lady Gaga to us) is known for her slightly eccentric behaviour, like back in 2011 when she arrived at the Grammy Awards inside a giant egg which she then used for the performance of her hit single ‘Born This Way’. As if that wasn’t weird enough, it turns out she felt so at home inside the egg she then slept inside it for three nights.
  2. Winston Churchill
    1. Running England during World War Two, guiding the nation to victory alongside the allies and writing some of the most famous speeches in history was a fairly time-consuming job. So, with the help of a little whisky and soda, Churchill would nap for two hours every afternoon, allowing him to stay up and keep working all through the night. He did this almost every day he was in office (a total of 9 years, since he was Prime Minister twice) which means it’s a pretty big miracle he ended up living to be 90!
  3. Michael Phelps
    1. As the most decorated Olympian of all time, it’s no wonder Phelps goes further than most people to keep up his physical fitness. He sleeps every night inside a special chamber that simulates high-altitude atmospheric conditions because the lower levels of oxygen make his body work extra hard and that builds his endurance. Basically, he’s so hardcore he even trains in his sleep!
  4. Salvador Dali
    1. The master of surreal art was not a big fan of sleep. He thought it was a total waste of time and actually developed his own technique to make sure his body was never able to go into standby for more than a few minutes at a time. When having a rest he would sit with a key in his hand and place a metal plate on the floor, directly beneath his hand. As he started to nod off the key would fall from his fingers and clatter onto the plate, jolting Dali awake again. That strange melty clock is starting to make more sense now.
  5. Cristiano Ronaldo
    1. The sultan of the stepover has adopted a ‘polyphasic’ approach to sleep - which means instead of slumbering for the whole night like the rest of us do, he gets his Zzzzz’s in 90-minute naps throughout the day. This helps get around awkward match kick-off times and inevitable post-game adrenaline spikes that are common for top players. it also makes it easier for coaches to monitor and adapt Ronaldo’s sleep routine to make sure he’s always refreshed and match-ready.
  6. Eminem
    1. Turns out the Real Slim Shady needs more than just shades on his windows to help him nod off. Mr Mathers needs total darkness to sleep and goes beyond black-out blinds, insisting that his windows are covered in tinfoil. Plus he finds it hard to sleep without white noise blaring through the TV and extra speakers in the room.