If there's one bit of advice I'd give to any student approaching exams, it's this: power naps are a remarkably potent tool which students should embrace without exception as an integral part of a revision plan.
But here's the problem. Almost no student that I've talked to has ever even thought about power naps as a means of augmenting their revision. In this blog, I intend to change that mindset and show how a daily power nap can make a genuine difference to the exam prospects of all students.
What is a Power Nap?
The term 'power nap' is a bit misleading. When I first came across the idea, I couldn't work out how anyone could fall asleep so quickly in the middle of the day. The answer is that you're not meant to! Following research by Harvard and other institutions over the past 30 years, a power nap of around 20 minutes is generally considered to be the optimal length. At one point, a study by NASA in 1995 suggested that 26 minutes was best, however, experts in the field of sleep deprivation and fatigue now widely believe 20 minutes is preferable.
During this short period, the aim is simply to lie down in a dark room, close your eyes, clear the mind of all thoughts, and relax. You might well find that you begin to lightly doze off after a short while, and that's allowed, but we're not aiming for full sleep. In fact, if you do have a power nap for much longer than around 30mins, then you'll be much more likely to fall into a deeper state of sleep. Doing so will mean that you'll feel groggy when you wake up, which is counter-productive. Setting a timer to quickly rouse yourself at the end of a nap will avoid this problem.
The Benefits of a Power Nap
So if a power nap isn't actual sleep, then why is it any good? Surprisingly, studies have shown that the body and brain will benefit from a power nap in the same way as they do from regular sleep. I dedicate a whole chapter to the science of sleep in The Holy Grail of Exam Success, and with good reason - sleeping for a full 8 hours every night should be a major component in every student’s plan for achieving exam success. Since a power nap will mimic the effects of overnight sleep, I believe that a daily nap should be considered just as important.
The many benefits of a power nap can be summarised as follows:
1. A power nap will refresh the body and brain, heighten alertness and promote a positive frame of mind. This in turn will improve concentration and attitudes to study.
2. A power nap will relax the body and brain, helping to reduce stress.
3. A power nap will boost cognitive function (short & long term memory) and enhance the brain’s ability to absorb information.
When to Take a Power Nap
The trick is therefore in choosing the most appropriate moment to unleash this secret weapon. I’ve experimented with taking a power nap across a range of times, and I now believe that a power nap at the end of a morning of revision – so after around 3 to 4 hours of study (not including breaks in between sessions) – is ideal. This will facilitate the consolidation of memories that have begun forming during the morning, and also sharpen focus going forward into the afternoon. However, a few words of warning - power naps should not be taken after lunch - you’ll be much more likely to fall into a deep sleep and before long a power nap can turn into a siesta! And, if a student is still at the stage when they’re not on study leave and is only revising after school, I’d advise that they come home from classes and have a power nap straight away – there is no better way of relaxing after a stressful school day, and they’ll feel re-energised and ready to tackle a few hours of revision, which might otherwise seem a daunting prospect.
To finish, power naps will benefit students of all ages and levels of study, help to stop revision burnout, provide something to look forward to at the end of the morning and, most importantly of all, improve the body and brain’s ability to function at full capacity – try it and see for yourself!
About Charlie Cazalet
Charlie was born in London in 1987, and sat his GCSEs in 2003-2004 and his AS/A-Levels in 2005-2006. In 2007, he began a four-year BA degree in French & Italian at the University of Bristol, spending 5 months each at the Universities of Aix-Marseille and Verona during his third year abroad. Charlie graduated in 2011 and went on to complete his formal education with two years at BPP Law School in 2013-2014, receiving a Distinction grade in his final exams. He is currently a Paralegal at Bird & Bird LLP, where he will begin his legal training in due course.
What inspired your book?
All through my formal education, I had to sit endless exams. Being a linguist at university and thereafter going to law school, this was doubly true of my situation. I would often notice how poorly my own peers prepared for exams (late nights, sweets, energy drinks etc.), and I was also very aware that while there were some fairly decent books out there on how to approach the basic act of revision, there was nothing that made the crucial link between sleep, nutrition, exercise etc. and optimal study. It was then that I started to read up as much as I could about this area, and through the end of university and then law school, I put my new ideas to the test and refined my technique.
After finishing law school in October 2014, I realised that there was a genuine gap in the market for such a book. From what I can see, my book still remains the only truly holistic guide to exam preparation. The book is built around an easy to follow 5-step strategy, was written for students of all ages and levels of study, and is based on a combination of contemporary science and my own experiences. My hope is that there will always be at least something new in it for every student. I am passionate about changing the way students go about their exam preparation, and I firmly believe that results could be improved country-wide if more students were to realise that by making small changes to how they approach revision, they could achieve significantly better exam grades.
The Holy Grail of Exam Success
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The Holy Grail of Exam Success is available from Amazon in a complete range of formats, and from iTunes as an audiobook (links included on the website).