Should you study at night?

student studying at night

It is not uncommon for students to study at night, sometimes till 4 am or later. I have been in such situations myself and I can tell you that I did not enjoy the experience. However, there are students who routinely study at times such as 3 am. So should you study at night?

While studying in the evening might work for the so-called night owls (about 21% of people), most students (even night owls) should not study very late in the night. Studying at night is not efficient and people generally memorize less. Furthermore, this will negatively affect your sleep, can even damage your health, and you won’t be very productive the next day. Lastly, you could develop bad habits such as drinking coffee in the middle of the night.

Of course, some people might disagree with the reasons outlined here. After all what if you feel great with just 3 hours of sleep? And what about all the good things that arise from studying at night? Some people really enjoy studying at 3 am and even brag about it.

Well, all of these are valid concerns. Thus, to answer the question more thoroughly, I will analyze each side of the debate more deeply. Hopefully, after reading this post you will have a really good idea of whether studying at night is for you (spoiler alert in most cases it is not ).

The pros for studying at night

1. You can get the needed extra time to finish a task before the deadline.

Well, this is a rather self-explanatory argument Lots of students end up in situations where they do not have a choice, but to pull off an all-nighter to meet the deadline. So studying at night can actually help you to meet your obligations if for some sort of reason you need some extra time. However, as later discussed in the article this comes with a substantial cost to your wellbeing.

2. There are almost no distractions.

One of the blessings of being awake at 2 am is that everyone else is sleeping. As a result, it is extremely silent around you. There are no notifications, emails, and social media messages popping out. There are no roommates or people who can chat loudly around you.

And there are fewer options to entertain yourself because a lot of stores, cinemas and other places are closed and most of your friends are asleep. Such an environment can let you concentrate better and as a result, be more productive.

3. You might gain prestige and look cool

Many students love to brag about how they studied until 5 am – they wear this fact as a badge of honor (I am guilty of that myself). In fact, some dorms even have records such as the longest time spent not sleeping.

However, not everyone looks at such feats favorably. Only certain people might consider that as “cool”. And even if this can get you the prestige is it really worth it? Do you want to be known for harming your health? Probably there are better ways of gaining prestige.

4. Some extraordinary individuals might actually feel productive at that time

While most of the people will not be productive at night (discussed below), there are people who might actually be rather productive at night. However, these are very extreme cases, and that do not apply to most of the students.

Case #1: you have calibrated your sleep in a way where you are productive at night. Most of us sleep in a monophasic way – we sleep one time per day. However, it is possible to calibrate your sleep schedule in a way where you do not need to sleep at the night, or ways to get by with limited sleep (however this can be rather extreme and damage your health).

With that being said for most practical purposes this will not apply in your case because:

  • firstly you probably lack the knowledge and discipline to do it correctly (I certainly do)
  • secondly, our society is calibrated in a way that is favorable for people who engage in monophasic sleep.

Case #2: you are an extreme owl. I will discuss this more thoroughly below, but essentially there is a very small group of people (less than 1% of all people) that might actually feel great very late in the night (however this is most likely not you).

Reasons why you should not study at night

1. At that time you are not productive

According to research conducted by Roenneberg et al. some of us are “Larks” (prefer to wake up early and go to bed early), some of us are “Owls” (prefer to wake up late and go to bed early) and most of us are “Third birds” (somewhere in between).

Depending on your chronotype you will more productive at certain tasks during certain times of the day. Dan Pink in his book provides a great summary of what types of tasks are the best for each group at different times of the day (see the table below).

Lark – 14%Third Bird – 65%Owl – 21 %
Analytic tasksEarly morningEarly to mid-morningLate afternoon and evening
Insight tasksLate afternoon/ early eveningLate afternoon/ early eveningMorning

As you can see regardless of your chronotype most people (even owls!) are not productive late in the night. So if you want to study efficiently, it is not recommendable to study late in the night. Also, if you want to learn more about this table and what is the best time to study for you see this post!

2. It will negatively affect your sleep

As mentioned our bodies follow a certain rhythm (circadian rhythm). If you keep studying at night and going to sleep very late (a time that is not suitable for most people) this will throw off your body off balance.

According to Harvard Medical School, it is important to have a set waking and bedtimes as this helps to set your body’s “internal clock”.

And if your body is of balance it will be more difficult to:

  • have a good sleep
  • easily wake up
  • fall asleep fast.

3. It can damage your overall health

If the quality of your sleep plummets you will not only be less productive but also according to the University of Georgia lack of sleep can be really detrimental to your health and overall performance at university. Don’t believe me? See this article and learn about the importance of sleep yourself.

4. It can significantly reduce your productivity the next day (or to be more precise the same day; I call it the next day because generally, your day finishes once you go to sleep)

If you go to bed at 4 am most likely you will not get a good night’s rest. Not only because as mentioned your internal clock will not like this (for the majority of people), but also because generally, you have to wake up in the morning (lectures, work, and other obligations might call upon you).

young man in sleepwear suffering from headache in morning

Essentially, if you study late in the night the next day you will wake up sleep-deprived, will feel awful, and will not be as productive or as focused as if you had proper sleep. I have experienced this myself when I studied till 8 am – believe me it was awful!

5. It can be more difficult to memorize your study material

According, Harvard Medical School, good sleep is essential for optimal learning and memory. In fact, a study by two MIT professors showed that getting good sleep and going to bet at proper times is linked to better test scores at university.

“Individuals who went to bed after some particular threshold time — for these students, that tended to be 2 a.m., but it varied from one person to another — tended to perform less well on their tests no matter how much total sleep they ended up getting.” – David L. Chandler | MIT News Office

6. It can make you develop other bad habits

If we are being honest most students study late in the night because they cannot muster the necessary willpower to study properly during the day. Students just often procrastinate or engage in other activities neglecting the studies till late evening or night.

Routinely studying late at night can not only damage your sleep but also make the procrastination during the day a habit. Moreover, many students tend to drink caffeinated beverages to keep themselves awake, which is also not good for your health and sleep and could become another bad habit.

7. It is just not fun

Studying in the middle of the night (when your body is urging you to go to bed) is rather difficult. And for many people fighting the natural urges of their own bodies is not a very enjoyable experience.

If you have ever pulled off an allnighter you probably know that it is not the most fun experience (especially if you have to do this routinely). Of course, there might be some people that enjoy tormenting themselves – but these masochists are an exception rather than the rule

So what is the verdict?

Well, the verdict is quite clear if you want to have good health, be happy, and be overall productive you should not study late at night. Evenings are ok, especially if you are an owl, however, you should stick to a proper sleep schedule and do not study after 12 pm.

However, if for some sort of reason you are in a really complicated situation (e.g. you have a deadline), where you do not have the choice but to study late in the night – then, by all means, I think its OK to study late in the night.

But under no circumstances, should this become routine behavior. Rather it should be an ace up your sleeve that you are hiding for those special moments when something goes not as you have planned.

Danielius Korsakas

Has a BSc in Economics and currently is pursuing a double master's degree in very fluffy but interesting subjects. Loves learning and building stuff.

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