Is late-night studying worth it in the long run? Sleep expert, professor Benjamin Rusak says no. (Photo: Kelly Graham.)

Dalhousie students weigh the consequences of late-night studying

Library extends its hours, for better or worse.


Students at Dalhousie University have another place to go for late-night studying now that the Killam Memorial Library is open until 3 a.m. However, according to one professor, studying into the wee hours may not be the best thing to ace an exam the next day.

Benjamin Rusak, professor of psychiatry, psychology, and pharmacology at Dalhousie University, says it can actually be counterproductive.

"If you're staying up late, you're working against the odds. Sleepy people don't perform well," Rusak says.

Rusak has been researching sleep for 35 years and sleep deprivation specifically for 10 years. He's involved with numerous sleep studies involving children, college students and young adults with the Chronobiology and Sleep Program in the Capital District Health Authority in Nova Scotia. In one of his studies, he saw the effects of a lack of sleep when adults are restricted to sleeping only three hours in one night.

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The Killam Library is a quiet study area for night owls after midnight. (Photo: Kelly Graham.)

Owl hours for other university libraries Mon-Thur:

MSVU: In December, they'll be open until 2 a.m.

SMU: Beginning of December, extending hours until midnight.

NSCAD: Not extending hours. They will remain at normal closing time, 10 p.m.

King's: Not changing hours for finals. The library is open until 11 p.m.

According to Rusak, sleep deprivation has two major consequences:

• decreased performance in cognitive abilities (such as reasoning, analysis, reading comprehension, and memory recall)
• decreased motor skills (such as hand-eye coordination and typing or walking properly)

In addition, studies show you become susceptible to the common cold. Over an extended period of time, lacking the proper amount of sleep leads to other health problems which includes reduced attention to detail and having emotional and behavioural problems.

Rusak says that cramming does not work, especially if it's material you haven't studied yet.

"You don't do any worse than not studying at all -- but for new material, the benefits may be offset by cost for things you've learned previously," Rusak says.

The psychiatry professor's advice for performing well on exam day is for students to better plan their study schedule so that it doesn't overlap with hours of sleep. He also suggests having at least a good seven-and-a-half to eight-and-a-half hours of sleep before a test.

Night owls: valuing grades over sleep

The latest that most Dal students study varies from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., though most say they quit around midnight. surveyed 10 students at the Killam Library, three out of 10 saying they will study at the Killam until the new 3 a.m. closing time. They stay there because it offers less distractions and noise. Also, some students prefer studying at night.

Economics student, John Hutton says since he lives in the north end of Halifax, it's convenient to stay on campus until 2:30-3 a.m. Sometimes he just has to get the work done, but he agrees there are no benefits to staying up late.

Hutton says when he gets more sleep he is more alert the next day. "I'm happier, a lot less stressed. I get more work done. But sometimes there are deadlines and you gotta bash it out," he says.

Many students study at night because of time restrictions. "Right now I'm beginning to think that seven hours sleep is too much, it's a waste of time. I would like to get a good night's sleep but there's just too much work to do," engineering student Hatem Ali says. He doesn't have much choice other than studying at night, he says, because he's in classes all day.

Dalhousie University students say one bonus with the extended hours at the Killam is being able to use the computers and printers in case something goes wrong with theirs.

Putting the issue to bed

A 2010 study of the U.S. Sleep Foundation found 63 per cent of students don't get enough sleep and 15 per cent fall asleep during class.

Finance student Joseph Brown will not be part of this 63 per cent. He says he will not be making use of the late night hours. "[Past midnight] my brain stops working and I can't focus," he says.

Saud Qureshi, an engineering student, says he'd rather study in the morning because he's tried cramming before and it "backfired horribly." He says having the Killam open doesn't encourage him to stay later but it affects him subconsciously and makes him less efficient and more relaxed because he'll take more breaks.

Qureshi doesn't take sleep for granted. "If I get a full night of sleep, I tend to work much better. I'm more motivated with more sleep. And I tend to think far, far, far clearer," he says.

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