Preparing for the GMAT forces us to measure many aspects of our lives. Not only must we confront our weaknesses in math and reading, but we also must grapple with our stress management, our ability to sustain focus, and our anxieties about the future. We have to set time aside, find a place in our busy lives to prepare for this test, and it’s only one slice in our application pie for business school.
Not that I want to complicate things, and add another item to our litany, but there is one more thing to think about. This is an important one to heed since doing so will positively reverberate through your whole life. Ignore it, and the consequences can be dire. We can sum it up with a simple declaration:
Doing so will only benefit your studies, and ultimately, it will benefit nearly every aspect of your waking life. The unwaking part will be pretty great too. 😉
What’s at Stake
Don’t take my word for, read the research (here, here, here, and here). Sleep is a fundamental part of being human, especially a healthy one. As scientist investigate sleep more and more, we learn about the detrimental effects of not sleeping.
With one week of insufficient sleep, gene expression changes in the body effecting our stress responses and immunity levels. That’s why people are moody when they don’t sleep. Think about an infant that misses a nap. This is also why we are more susceptible to a cold when we miss sleep.
Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to obesity. If you don’t get enough sleep, people tend to start eating more. And not eating healthy food—we tend to eat more high-calorie, processed food.
After only one night of missed sleep, 15 men lost brain tissue. That might be why it is hard for people to stay focused after a short night of sleep. Whatever the reason, loss in brain mass or some other factor, studies show that without a full night’s rest, people have issues with their memory.
Over the long term, if people chronically miss sleep, a whole host of problems ensue. A study of men and women over the course of 14 years saw an increased risk for death after controlling for diabetes, hypertension, and other factors. Cholesterol goes up, and chances of heart disease and cancer increase. The chance of diabetes increases, and the risk of stroke quadruples!
What’s to be Gained
Besides avoiding these risk factors and negative side effects, there is a lot to gain besides more rest. Sleep plays a crucial role in learning and forming memories. Memory formation is a three-step process: encoding, storage, and retrieval. Encoding is the first impression—the new experience or fact. The storage phase makes it permeant. Retrieval is the act of remembering; confirmation that it all worked.
Sleep becomes important in the storage phase. We consolidate all that we learned during the day when we sleep. Further, with neuroimaging, scientists have shown that the activation patterns in the sleeping brain mirror those recorded during the learning of tasks from the previous day. So your brain is actually reliving those moments of learning and building a deeper network for memory when sleeping.
It’s clear that we should add a good night’s rest to our study plans. Don’t sacrifice sleep to do an extra ten practice problems since it will do more harm in the long term.
How to Optimize Sleep
I am not an unreasonable person. I know how life can be. Plenty of students studying for the GMAT are returning to school after years away, probably have a job now, and might even have a family to care for. How, they ask, should I sleep the recommended eight hours with all of these responsibilities?
Easy! Take naps.
Winston Churchill famously intoned, “Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.” Just a simple ten to twenty minutes of napping can be enough to catch up on those lost hours at night.
Find a comfy chair, lay down on a couch, find a grassy knoll to close your eyes and enter the “blessed oblivion.” You’ll wake up refreshed and ready for whatever life is trying to throw at you, such as integer properties or argument flaws.
Much of what we do for our GMAT prep may seem esoteric. We learn common wrong answer traps and prepare for a timed essay—skills that don’t seem transferable to life after the GMAT. But when it comes to sleep, this is something that will help you on the test and help you afterwards. Take the time to improve your mood, avoid sickness, and hone your memory. Now, go get some sleep! 🙂