6 minute read
Compared to most tests that students take in school, the SAT and ACT feel like marathons. Clocking in at about 3 hours each, these tests can be exhausting. Many students focus only on preparing their brains for the tests through test prep classes, workbooks, and studying concepts, but really, students should ensure their whole bodies are in tip-top shape by doing one simple (but incredibly important) thing: sleeping.
And not just regular sleeping – good sleeping. A delicious 8+ hours of uninterrupted sleep and awakening feeling relaxed. A night of being too zonked out to dream. A blissful evening with a snuggly blanket and cool air circulation. Re-energizing. Rejuvenating. Sleep.
Why is good sleep so vital to test-taking?
It would be quicker to list what a good night of sleep doesn’t do. Sufficient sleep aids in memory retention and helps keep a stable and calm mood. It sharpens concentration, problem-solving, creativity, and general thinking. Sleep helps the body to heal itself and improves coordination since the brain is energized to send quick signals to the body.
Why is good sleep particularly important to taking the SAT and ACT?
In addition to the above, students want to avoid falling into microsleep during the test, which are instances where someone falls asleep for several seconds without realizing it. Most people are familiar with microsleep – where we find ourselves reading the same paragraph over and over in a pre-bedtime book or our heads jerk back up after dozing off on a plane or while riding in a car.
Microsleep is distracting during a standardized test because it breaks students’ focus, which may make them have to start a question over. Additionally, instances of microsleep usually happen a few times in a row, which wastes valuable minutes during the test’s already tight timeframe. The best ways to shake off microsleep are to move around and talk to someone – neither of which is possible during a test. Therefore, it’s extremely important that students get adequate sleep to completely fend off microsleep.
How much sleep is enough?
It’s no secret that most teenagers don’t get enough sleep. The CDC recommends that teens aged 13-18 get 8-10 hours of sleep per night, but a national study showed that almost 75% of teens average fewer than 8 hours. Although this amount of sleep may work for some students day-to-day, it won’t permit students to perform their best during an intensive brain-drain like the SAT or ACT.
What if falling asleep isn’t quick and easy?
For students who are used to bedtimes of 11 pm (or later), falling asleep at 8:30 or 9:00 pm will be a major adjustment. They’ll need to develop a new sleep schedule, which can be done with the following suggestions.
- Students should choose what time they would like to wake up for the 8:00 am SAT or ACT on test day. Counting back about 9 hours will give the goal bedtime.
- Changing our brain’s internal clock has to be done incrementally. The best method is by moving the bedtime up by just 15 minutes every 2 or 3 days. This means that students with later current bedtimes may have to start this process several weeks before test day.
- Avoid exercising and eating too close to going to bed, so that the body is as relaxed as possible.
- Consistency with these new habits is key – even on weekends, which can be particularly difficult. Above all, students should keep the SAT or ACT test day in mind as a goal, and think of this adjustment as a method of preparing for the test.
For example, a student with a current bedtime of 11:00 pm, who wants to wake up on December 4, 2021 at 6:15 am for the SAT, may develop a sleep schedule like this:
Any tips for getting the body into the 😴 sleep zone 🌙?
Just like absentmindedly buckling a seatbelt when getting into a car, repeating behaviors over and over trains the brain to associate certain actions and feelings together. Having a pre-sleep routine alerts the body that it is moving into the sleeping phase of our day. The following tips could be incorporated into students’ pre-sleep routines in the weeks leading up to the SAT and ACT:
- Wind down with a warm bath
- Play relaxing music while getting ready for bed
- Use lavender and vanilla aromatherapy in lotions, candles, or air fresheners
- Make a cup of tea, especially chamomile, passionflower, or magnolia
- Meditate for 20 minutes
- Journal to let out daily stresses
- Visualize a happy and calm place
What is the best environment for quality sleeping?
Turn off as many lights as possible, especially screens. (Screens produce blue light that reduces the brain’s production of melatonin, which helps us sleep. Blue light-blocking glasses may help, but it’s best to turn the screens off completely.) An eye mask or shirt draped over the eyes can also help to block light out. Reduce noise as much as possible or wear earplugs. Keep the room cool. Pick up any clutter to keep the mind at ease.
What if sleep is just not happening?
If after about 20 minutes, sleep still seems out of reach, the most important thing for students to remember is not to panic or repeatedly check the time, which will rev the body up and make it harder to fall asleep. They can try these methods instead:
- Get out of bed and do a quiet activity (without electronics)
- Count breaths and focus on controlled breathing
- Leave the bedroom for a bit to “reset”
- Do some gentle stretches to release any tension
Is cramming a good idea for the night before the SAT or ACT?
Cramming can be minorly helpful for tests that are content-based and require memorization of information, but the SAT and ACT are reasoning tests, which means that there’s nothing to memorize. Students are encouraged to review topics in the weeks leading up to the test, but the night before test day should be purely about relaxation and sleep.
Is coffee a good fix for an inadequate night of sleep?
Unless students can find a coffee that forges new pathways between neurons (which is unlikely to be on the menu at Dunkin), then no, coffee can’t replace a night of good sleep. It provides caffeine, which blocks molecules (adenosine) that cause us to feel sleepy, which can be helpful for a tired test-taker. However, caffeine could also cause jitters, irritability, or a crash in the hours after the stimulating effects wear off. A good night of sleep is still the best choice.
Students can attend one of our live, virtual or in-person SAT or ACT prep classes to get all of their questions answered weeks (or even months!) before their test date. Beginning the prep process early → fewer stressed thoughts popping up → better sleep before the test → reaching the highest test scoring potential.