Sleep and Studying



I’ve always thought that studying during the day was the best time to study—I’m awake and alert and can focus on my work pretty well. There have been studies, though, that prove night time studying—or studying right before you fall asleep—are the most beneficial times to study.

An article published by Dr. Jessica D. Payne in 2011 hypothesized that nighttime studying was the best time to study. The article explains that there are two steps towards remembering something: the encoding of the information in our memory and the consolidation of information in our memory. Encoding happens when a piece of information is constructed with the goal of being stored in our brain so we remember it and can recall it at a later point.  Memory consolidation, on the other hand, is the stabilization of new information in long-term memory and is essential to remembering facts in the long-term.

This is where sleep plays a crucial part in our memories. According to her research, Dr. Payne said that sleep helps to consolidate memories. In fact, it may be the best thing we can do to consolidate them. She said that learning new skills are learned slowly over time and not learned all at once during the studying period, and sleep helps with consolidating these new skills. You can’t just sit down and learn something that takes time and is complicated in one night. Your brain needs time to let all of the information sink in until you can really say you’ve learned it. As shown in the article, sleep can recreate and re-solidify these memories differently than when we learned them, which can help us remember them better in the long run.

A study published by Dr. Payne and six other scientists outline an experiment they did which supports the hypothesis that sleep helps consolidate memories.

The Study

The participants in this observational study were given word pairs to study and were tested 30 minutes, 12 hours and 24 hours later with several training and retesting intervals throughout that time. It looked like this:



It was found that participants who studied at 9pm and then went to sleep performed much better on the test they took twelve hours later than the other participants who either took the test directly after they studied, or studied a full 24 hours before they took the test.


The findings of this study agreed with the null hypothesis that sleeping right after studying helps consolidate memories and will therefore help you to do better on tests. According to the null hypothesis, the mechanism is pretty straight forward: sleep is what makes our memories consolidate.

If this hypothesis turned out the be wrong, the results might actually yield a false positive. If the results showed that studying at night proved to be no less beneficial or even less beneficial than studying during the day, the the null hypothesis would turn into an alternative hypothesis. This alternative hypothesis would state that studying at night has to positive effect on overall learning and memorization of the subject being studied.

Sleep is invaluable, not only because the health benefits it provides, but also because our brains need a rest to process everything that we are learning. Of course, this probably isn’t an excuse to stay up late to study and only get a few hours of sleep because of the sleep we actually need to help process what we just learned, but it’s amazing what our brains can actually do when we let them work.

11 thoughts on “Sleep and Studying

  1. Kameron Villavicencio

    Firstly, there was a typo in the last paragraph where you say “because of because”. Just wanted to point it out before you submit your blogs for good on Friday. I keep reading blogs on sleeping whilst being tired. I was reading blog posts last night before I went to sleep, and I feel like I retained the information pretty well. I couldn’t recite specific facts from the posts but I remember the overall concept, which is something Andrew stresses as more important in this class. I also found the same study when doing further research on the topic. The study was published in PLOSone, which is a reputable scientific journal, so I feel comfortable believing the content. Perhaps I will begin to study before I go to sleep. That will usually happen anyway especially when I am cramming. I wonder if there is a limit to how much our minds can consolidate the memories.

    1. Lauren Hile Post author

      Thanks for letting me know about my typo! I agree with you that while we might not necessarily retain all of the facts from studying the night before we will retain the overall concept of the material, which is much more important. I usually read my international relations textbook before I go to bed and even though I remember all of the vocabulary presented, when I read the next section the next night I find myself subconsciously remember the concept of the section from the night before. I actually used the study in my article of the link you posted, but I found another supported the same hypothesis. This specifies that if we study even a few hours before sleeping it has the best effect. This is good news because when I study at night I feel like I’m falling asleep in my textbooks, but if I study around 9 or 10 I am better able to concentrate, and I will still have a chance of retaining the information when I go to sleep two hours later.

  2. Chelsea Greenberg

    As someone who has always studied right before bed, this post makes me relieved! Your use of the study to test your hypothesis was well done. However, I would maybe incorporate more class terminology for hypothesis testing in order to tie class material into your post more. I like your writing style and your topic is a relevant one. This made me think of the myth that sleeping with your textbook under your pillow will help you to learn the material, which is just a myth. However, here is an article that says that cramming for a test right before bed time can actually work!

    1. Lauren Hile Post author

      This is a very interesting article! The way that the study was conducted was very thorough. I have heard that if you listen to something before bed you’ll remember it better, but I’ve never heard of an actual study on it. I’ve heard from some of my friends that they go to sleep listening to recorded lectures from their professors, so I might actually have to give that a try. Here’s another article that helps explain how memory is connected to sleep and how listening to this during sleep works.

  3. dms6679

    I was really interested in reading this post, as this is a topic that was presented to me by my high school psychology teacher. Like you, I always believed that studying during the day was the best time to study. After my high school teacher telling me otherwise, I experimentally changed my study happens by studying later in the evening. I surprised when I found that I was retaining a lot more information, and preforming better in school. That being said, I can personally vouch for your post! I think you provided very compelling information, and organized it well making this a very intriguing post!

  4. Emily Fiacco Tuite

    I do my studying late at night and I notice that if I am not able to remember everything, I am able to remember most of it and then review what I do not remember later. This blog post makes me happier to know that studying at night is better than studying in the daytime because normally the only time I have to study is at night. Here is an article about the benefits to studying at night and during the day. It also includes some tips for studying at night.

    1. Lauren Hile Post author

      This is a great article! In high school I studied more during the day but in college I’ve started studying more at night because that’s when I have the most free time, and I actually really like it, but I need to get used to it, like the article said. I also found that I get more distracted during the day because there are more people around, and at night everything is much quieter and calmer. I have noticed though that the harsh light has been hurting my eyes and keeping me up later than I want to be. Here’s another article on more tips for studying at night!

  5. cmt5658

    This is so great to hear, because I do all my studying at night. The earlier I begin to study, the more I forget. However this could have something to do with how I was taught to study; that is by trying to memorize the material rather actually trying to learn it. That may be an interesting idea for you to further progress this post. This link ( provides 11 reasons how many people in our generation study wrong. Now I am not sure how credible this random site is, however it discusses time of studying, breaks needed to study, and also other study habits to improve grades.

    1. Lauren Hile Post author

      This is a good article, although I agree with you that it doesn’t seem the most credible, but it still makes some good points. I am starting a blog about the concept of practice tests, which is similar to what you mentioned about memorizing vs. learning material. When we use practice tests we learn the material rather than just memorize it because we have to connect different ideas and can use what we learned from the practice tests and apply it on the actual test. Here’s the link to the study I found on the research connected to this idea.

  6. Jason Schwartz

    This study makes a lot of sense and I can relate to it in many ways. Sometimes I have a habit of being tired during the day but awake as it gets later at night. This being said I am able to focus and perform better than my sleepy self in the afternoon. I also find it helpful to listen to light music, I will link some below. Do you think its is possible that our brain takes newly learned material and recites it to itself as we sleep? If so it would make it more ingrained in us than ever.

    1. Lauren Hile Post author

      I agree with you that listening to calm/light music when studying at night really helps me to focus, and especially to the kind of music that you linked in your comment! I think that yes, our brains are pretty smart and can recite the information when we sleep. I actually had a conversation with someone else in another comment where we discussed listening to a recorded lecture while falling asleep, and there is data backing up the fact that this helps with learning the lecture. Here’s the link:
      Although this isn’t exactly what you were talking about in your comment, I think that our brains can ingrain a lot of material when we sleep, more so than we are even aware of.

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