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What is the best time to study?

Updated January 14, 2017

Once I spent more hours on my study table trying not to sleep than studying. And this was because I had been trying to study while my biological clock had been in the sleep mode. We all know that there are certain times of the day that we function well and at certain times we don’t. Each of us has a biological clock that follows its own rhythm, not the movements of the dials of the clock or that of the sun.

While we have to follow the clock to be in tune with the rest of the world and not miss our different schedules, when it comes to studying, we need to obey our biological clock to get real work done. Studying at a time when your brain is not working at its best is fruitless. But it is not easy to know when your body and brain give their peak performance. Several scientific studies have been done on when is the best time to study but without any conclusive results because everyone’s body works in different ways.

While some people find it easy to learn and remember things in the morning, others do it better as the day advances and many function best when the stars are out and the whole world has gone to sleep. It is important for students to find the best time of the day for them to study in order to save time, learn better and with less effort.

conclusive results because everyone’s body works in different ways.

While some people find it easy to learn and remember things in the morning, others do it better as the day advances and many function best when the stars are out and the whole world has gone to sleep. It is important for students to find the best time of the day for them to study in order to save time, learn better and with less effort.

But to find the best time to study needs some self-experimentation as everyone is their own best judge as to when they perform best. To know your best time to study, you need to try studying at any time which you feel is the best for you, like in the evening or morning, for an extended length of time, at least a week, and then try something else and compare how well you did at both times.

I know early morning or late night study sessions cannot be easily done during week days when the school is open, but do try it out during the weekends. I am a night person and, if I have had some sleep during the day, I can study all night and learn more than what I can manage during the day in a whole week. This I realised after unsuccessfully getting up at dawn to study for exams but couldn’t clear the clouds over my brain before 10am at the earliest. I find the quite of the night just right to focus on what I am doing, like writing this.

Whatever time you select to test yourself, make sure you are punctual in following those times. By being consistent, you are training your mind and body to follow those timing and produce better result.

If you are a morning person, you will do better in the morning and the early hours of the school. But if you are a night person, you will find studying before going to bed or after everyone else is asleep, more effective. But night people should remember that effective studying and good memory retention is also related to the amount of sleep you get. So if you need to stay up late in the night to study, then make sure to take a nap in the afternoon, or if in the morning, then sleep in time to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep in the night to wake up bright early the next morning.

See what works for you then schedule your major learning activities at your selected times and you will see that studying will not seem so difficult anymore.

Day verses night

Some researchers have found that teenagers are more likely to study effectively at night, but then this is just an observation that does not hold true for every teen or student. Let us look at the various benefits of studying at both times in order to make the most out of whatever time people find as the best one for them.

Benefits of daytime studying

Natural light is soft on the eyes and our bodies are programmed to wake up when the sun is out, so most people find it easier to study during the day, with early morning being the most preferred time.

If you wake up earlier than usual, but after having rested well the night before, your brain is fresh from all thoughts that clutter it during the day and your body is rested and refreshed. Many people find that they are energised to take on the tough task of studying early in the morning so they usually get up very early to learn for tests and exams.

Because the whole world is asleep and it is very quiet during the night, you can get better sleep during that night than during the day when there is a lot of movement, disturbance and noise that may keep interrupting your sleep.

Staying up late can keep you drowsy at school the next day and you will not be able to concentrate on what is being taught. So even if you are a night person, plan your night study schedule well and have a cut off time when you just need to go to bed. Studying during the day is also easier in the sense that if you run into a problem and need to consult a friend or a teacher, you can reach out to them at once or sooner than in the night when they all are asleep.

But to study during the day, you need to take out extra time for it and shove aside other engagements and things that you do regularly. Though much of it is going to seem so important, especially social media, but not is more important than studying for your exams.

Benefits of night time studying

It is very peaceful and quiet during the night, the rest of the house is asleep and can’t disturb you, and it’s just you and your books. There are no distractions, except the bed, to take your mind off studies. The mind’s creative output also increases at night – maybe that’s the reason so many writers, poets and artists work until the wee hours of the morning.

But if your must burn the midnight oil, you must also make sure that you get enough sleep during the day or after a couple of days you will gain nothing by staying up late.

Also make sure that your study in a well-lighted place otherwise you will start feeling drowsy sooner and strain your eyes and thus find them, and your head, aching.

Also do keep track of the time, so that you know how much time is left until your cut off time so that you can focus on finishing what you have planned. Take breaks, walk around, munch on some snacks or just move around to refresh your body and mind.

Some people advocate the use of music to fight away the boredom or loneliness that can creep in when studying alone in the night. Light music, preferably instrumental or songs that don’t distract you much, playing very softly in the background and not loudly through the earphones, have been found to be effective when people are doing mathematical problems.

Try out the different times of the day to study and see which one works for you, and learn all the tough subjects at that time to accomplish more and get better results.


What do scientists say?

Scientific studies have shown that the brain works actively at night so it is more effective to study before you go to bed. But this does not hold true for those who are morning people and learn better upon waking up.

Some research has shown that the early hours of the day are the optimal time for our analytical brain to perform the most complex tasks (like reading, comprehension, application, repetition). For this reason some scientists call this time of day the brain’s peak performance time, and it is roughly two-four hours after we wake up. Visual memory is considered to be better in the morning and critical thinking around noon, so plan learning activities accordingly.

Most people, however, go through a ‘slump’ in the afternoon, between 1pm and 4pm, take this time to relax.

Dr Jane Oakhill, a psychologist at the University of Sussex, conducted a number of experiments to determine how our memory is affected by the time of day. She discovered that in the morning, we tend to be better at tasks that rely on our ability to recall exact details, like names, places, dates and facts. But in the afternoon, our brain is better at tasks that require our ability to integrate new information with what we already know and make it meaningful.

So she recommended that we should study new material earlier in the day and use the afternoon to integrate new knowledge into what you already know. Thus the morning is best for researching information. And the afternoon is better for synthesizing and applying it.

Published in Dawn, Young World, January 14th, 2017