If you are a student of any kind or ever have been, you have likely faced a large pile of schoolwork and watched the clock slowly tick later and later as you struggle to complete it. With school days often starting early and evenings full of extracurricular activities and sports events, completing homework, papers, and studying can often be a struggle for even the most organized and prepared students.
So if you’ve ever been working late into the night on a school assignment, you may have wondered if you’re being as efficient as possible in your studying. Is it better to press on into the wee hours of the morning, sacrificing sleep for the greater good? Or is it better to go to sleep at a decent time and wake up before the sun to finish studying in the morning? Maybe you feel like the afternoon is the best time to study, since late nights make you sleepy and early mornings do that same. We’re here to put this question to rest (no pun intended).
The bottom line is that each person is different, and different times of the day better suit certain students than others. However, there is some scientific research that shows that nighttime studying (we’re talking like 6 pm, not midnight) is more beneficial and productive. Read on to learn the benefits and drawbacks of each time of the day as they relate to your studying.
Some students are early birds, though very few. If you fall into the category of early risers, you can likely knock out a huge chunk of schoolwork or studying well before most of your peers are even awake. If this sounds like you, embrace the early morning to be productive and review your notes before your day begins. Those who study in the morning often will do the bulk of their studying in the early hours of the day and spend the evening reviewing and refreshing their memories on some things they struggled to remember from the morning. This is a great strategy—provided that you can stay awake during the morning hours.
The biggest drawback of early morning studying is exhaustion. Some students will set an alarm to wake up and study, only to turn it off and go right back to sleep. If students do get up unnaturally early to finish up some studying, they may struggle with focus issues. This is scientific—blood sugar levels are lower in the mornings (due to not eating overnight), and this makes it harder for students to concentrate. Additionally, melatonin (a hormone that regulates sleep) levels are thought to peak at around 5:30 am, meaning it will be harder for students to stay awake at this time.
If you choose a morning study session, be sure to embrace the cooler morning temperatures and study outside to increase focus, and enjoy the lack of distractions as everyone else is still asleep. If you’re attempting an early morning study session, sit upright at a table or desk, drink a big glass of water, and eat some breakfast before or during your study session. This will hopefully increase your wakefulness and help you be a productive and focused studier.
Generally speaking, mid-afternoon studying is not super common or even recommended. Once students finish their days’ worth of schoolwork, they typically want and need a break from studying. Mid-afternoon is generally considered downtime, or a time to practice a sport, attend a club meeting, or hang out with friends.
However, the afternoons are generally the least tiring part of the day. Yes, you may experience a lull in energy after lunch, but you’re not tired from being woken recently as in the morning, and you’re not tired from being awake all day long as at night. Other people are awake at this time of day, which is beneficial if you run into a question or problem with what you’re studying. You can contact other students or a teacher during an afternoon study session whereas you couldn’t do that at 5 am or at 11 pm. Additionally, natural light is better for your eyes, your focus, and your productivity. If you’re studying early in the morning or late at night, you’re doing so with a lamp or other artificial light. Natural light that is present during the afternoon hours will help you concentrate more and better absorb the material you’re studying.
In the Evening
Late night studying is a favorite among students, and there are a few reasons for this. First, teenagers tend to be night owls and enjoy staying up late on a regular basis. Second, teenagers often procrastinate studying, leaving them to have cram sessions the night before exams, meaning they are up late quite frequently.
Some studies have shown that students better absorb the studied materials when they go to bed right after studying. It’s almost as if their sleep time allows their brain to process the information as they rest, leading to better retention the next day. Studying at night allows for fewer distractions than afternoon studying, as more people are asleep, social media isn’t buzzing, and there are fewer people to talk to you or pull you away from your desk.
One great way to maximize nighttime studying is giving yourself a set window of time in which to study. Let’s say at 6 pm you turn off your phone, turn off your computer, close your door, and just start studying. Take a 5-minute break every hour and then get back to it. You may need to go later into the night depending on how much studying you need to do, but aim to finish by 10 pm. Staying up late is considered the most effective time to study, but staying up too late will become counterproductive. In fact, some studies show that you are more productive and efficient at studying when you sleep more, so be sure to prioritize sleep even on those study-filled nights.
The basic conclusion is that it kind of depends on you, but nighttime studying is generally more productive. If you are not a night owl and you struggle to keep your eyes open past 9 pm, obviously nighttime studying is not going to work best for you. Do your best to know yourself and what time of day you think is best for your own personal studying, and if you’re not sure, try different times out and see how you feel after those study sessions.