Help me sleep before an exam
December 10, 2003 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Law school final exams are here! The key is analysis and clarity rather than rote memorization, so rest and concentration are ideal. But I'm a complete insomniac. What's the best way to ensure 8 hours of sleep before a 9 AM exam? Chemical solutions (over the counter), while not preferred, are OK unless there is a chance that they will interfere with mental ability the next morning.
posted by PrinceValium to Education (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
  • Get up early the day before
  • Clean sheets, Clean room
  • Don't worry about it too much

posted by fvw at 9:58 AM on December 10, 2003

My study group and I had the inevitable law student need for caffeine. If you can limit you caffeine intake the afternoon and evening before the exam, I've discovered sleep is much easier to come by.

And remember, after you finish one exam, you can't begin studying for the next until you've seen a movie, preferably in the theater.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:00 AM on December 10, 2003

I agree with tharlan that physical exercise greatly improves the ability to get a good nights sleep. I would recommend yoga rather (or in addition to) weight-lifting. You don't have to worry about soreness, and the breathing exercises help calm the mind considerably.
posted by tdismukes at 10:13 AM on December 10, 2003

The key to law school exams is to not worry about them.

The biggest problems of law school students is to get too worked up over the exam by studying too hard and stressing out.

The material isn't that complicated, so there is no need to prepare yourself for a Herculean task. By doing so, you body and mind can be over-prepared. (And anyhow, most of our are exams were open-book, so its not like you really needed to know everything anyhow).

The key is to just have a good understanding of the subject, but not a rigid one, so that you can be a free-thinker on the exam.

So, if you pursue law school exams like I did, that is, with total apathy and a cursory review beforehand, then you can do just fine. Everyone in law school is forced into auto-didatic responses to certain questions, so one can distinguish one's self by... cliche time... "thinking outside the box."
posted by Seth at 10:17 AM on December 10, 2003

Response by poster: I'm not worried about exams. I just want to not feel the need to take a nap during them.

(damn it, I just knew someone would mention diet and exercise. isn't there a TV-watching option in there somewhere?)
posted by PrinceValium at 10:21 AM on December 10, 2003

isn't there a TV-watching option in there somewhere?

Well, I did mention movies, and I was actually semi-serious about it. I think a few hours to stop thinking about the law after an exam is essential to wipe the slate clean, so you can start over fresh for the next one.

I also agree with Seth, for the most part. Law students often overprepare, and stress themselves out. The material is not that hard, and being able to write a coherent sentence is more important, at least for most professors, then having a complete grasp of each nuance of the law. In that sense, "thinking outside the box" can be important, because it shows the professor you can think analytically, and you haven't just memorized an outline. On the other hand, I did have a few professors who wanted the law regurgitated. Thinking outside the box would have significantly harmed your grade in their classes. Those professors, coincidentally, were also among the most boring and my least favorite. The moral: relax, know your professor, write well, and know a few bits of the law.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:39 AM on December 10, 2003

Worst thing to possibly do after a law school exam: talk about it with others who took it.

"What did you put on that question about _____?"

Bad idea. No good can come of it. All that will happen is that you will start to second guess yourself.

So I agree with Monju: leave the exam and go to a bar or a movie and get your mind on something else.
Then, the next day, start doing the skim/overview.

This is a good stress free way to go through exams, thereby keeping sleep as an effective function, and preventing tired mind during exams.
posted by Seth at 10:51 AM on December 10, 2003

physical exercise is a great idea, definately.

as quite a severe insomniac at uni, i've found that doing a 9-5 at work really helps to regulate my sleeping pattern, which in turn has helped me pretty much conquer my sleeping problems.

if that's anything to go by, try adding some regularity into your life. if that's possible?

failing that, some light music and general relaxation before going to bed. trying to shut down your otherwise overactive brain is probably the key here, since you're obviously stressed about the exams. which is cool, most of us have felt that during our lives.

good luck!
posted by triv at 10:52 AM on December 10, 2003

My roommate is writing a take-home law exam in the next room this very moment, and apparently coffee and cigarettes in just the right balance are the answer.
posted by teg at 11:28 AM on December 10, 2003

Run around a track, have a clean room, masturbate or have a companion masturbate you.
posted by Keyser Soze at 11:50 AM on December 10, 2003

This sounds weird, but I have tried it and it works:

Assuming that the insomnia stems from an overactive brain,
what you do is close your eyes, then fairly rapidly move your eyeballs from side to side. Go as far on each side is possible. Do a few sets of this and whatever you were compulsively thinking about is gone.

I have a disorder that occasionally manifests by too much thinking, and this little trick has been incredibly helpful. There is some scientific reason this works-and there is actually a more complicated version that I have never been able to remember long enough to try. Anyhow, it helped me.

Oh, and physical activity really is helpful. Don't get too little sleep the night before as there really is such a thing as being too tired to sleep.
posted by konolia at 12:00 PM on December 10, 2003

My boyfriend is taking his first law final today. The big deal I have heard about TV is that the lights stimulate the brain a bit so watching TV late [or screwing off with email] won't help you get to sleep. Things we tried are 1) some exercise during the day but not right before bed... doesn't have to be strenuous, can be a long walk even 2) eating the last meal of the day somewhat early 3) setting a reasonable, but not abnormal bedtime. Also, get up early-ish, don't vary your daily routine too much [i.e. if you don't generally eat a big breakfast, don't start, but carry some Powerbars in reserve for later] and always wear special underwear [this is from my years of test-prep teaching] because it's always good to have an in joke with yourself when you are stressing and about the let the bastards get you down.
posted by jessamyn at 12:09 PM on December 10, 2003

the way i fended off the nap-ees during law school exams was not by trying to force myself into an uncharacteristic 7+ hours of sleep the night before, but by getting up at 1/3 into the exam and 2/3 into the exam and taking a brief walk/stretch through the hallways. it was harder to do during the bar exam (the bar exams bastards force you to sign in and out and only so many of you may be gone from the room at any moment in time).

in all of law school i had only one exam that was not easily completely in (time allotted for exam)-(1 hour).
posted by crush-onastick at 12:28 PM on December 10, 2003

Listen to Car Talk. It's funny, puts you in a light-hearted mood, and makes it easy to drift off to sleep, but gives you enough cerebral stimulation so you don't start thinking about exams.

My med student cure.
posted by gramcracker at 12:37 PM on December 10, 2003

i have found that attempting to abrogate my natural cycles to conform with "common sense" rules is most disruptive. if you are a total insomniac, you obviously operate as one already. you must do fairly clear thinking and analysis in your normal state, else you'd not have got this far. don't worry about it. don't force it.
posted by quonsar at 1:55 PM on December 10, 2003

I take melatonin when I need to make sure I get a decent night's sleep. However: I wouldn't take it less than 11 hours before I plan to get up. It needs some time to clear the body and if taken too late at night it can give you a sort of "hangover" the next morning.
posted by Tholian at 2:14 PM on December 10, 2003

I second Tholian's recommendation. I've used melatonin when traveling to ensure sleeping on the plane (and alleviate jet lag arriving in western Europe). It works extremely well, has no distinguishable side effect if you take it early enough (I say 12 hours before you have to wake up again) and the sleep feels "natural" and refreshing, unlike the sleep you'd get from other chemical alternatives. While I appreciate the other options offered by those above, as an insomniac I'm guessing that none of those is really going to help you. Limit the amount of caffeine you drink the day before, take a melatonin tablet around 7:00PM and you'll get a decent night's sleep.
posted by JollyWanker at 2:26 PM on December 10, 2003

The material isn't that complicated, so there is no need to prepare yourself for a Herculean task.

You obviously did not take the tax exam that I just got out of! Holy crap, that thing was large and barbed.
PV, if you're a 1L all I have to say is that you have to train yourself to not overdue it. I know it sounds stupid but more studying often does not equal better exam performance (at least in my case). Great suggestions above, limiting caffeine and excercise have worked for me in the past. And whatever you do ignore all horror stories and trust you're gut. If you ditch you're own personal plan because you see everyone learning stupid mneumonics a day before the Contracts exam it will fuck you up. OK, back to studying for me.
posted by anathema at 2:37 PM on December 10, 2003

The moral: relax, know your professor, write well, and know a few bits of the law.

Excellent advice.
posted by anathema at 3:07 PM on December 10, 2003

What's the best way to ensure 8 hours of sleep before a 9 AM exam?
posted by PrinceValium

posted by cortex at 4:05 PM on December 10, 2003

The best piece of advice I ever got about preparing for exams is not to study at all the night before. Relax, read a book, watch a movie, whatever. The more you study at the last minute, the more you convince yourself that you don't know the material. The school that my eldest daughter just graduated from took this advice to the extreme recently, organising a compulsory movie night for all students undertaking a major test the next day and most of the students reported that it worked wonders for them. If you don't know the material by the night before an exam, you will not learn it then.
posted by dg at 4:19 PM on December 10, 2003

I just forwarded this discussion to my girlfriend, who is studying for her first semester of law finals over in New York right now. Ask MetaFilter rocks!
posted by UKnowForKids at 9:32 PM on December 10, 2003

It's been said - melatonin. For me, it's worked like this: don't eat anything after (an early-ish) dinner, and take it by 10 PM with a glass of water. It takes a little time to wake up from so give yourself a window in the morning and don't be rushed.

Very helpful, since I can keep myself up all night with my mind going a mile a minute no matter how tired I am sometimes. This stuff works.
posted by Melinika at 9:52 PM on December 10, 2003

I would suggest its a bad idea to try any chemical means that you haven't tried before, or you risk being drowsy for the whole morning.
Also, a quick one off the wrist should aid sleep.
posted by biffa at 2:45 AM on December 11, 2003

oft-repeated tips, that I like to follow at exam time, though are generally good for academic work throughout the year (some not all totally sleep related, but hey, they might be useful):

1. don't work where you sleep and relax. loads of my friends work in their rooms, BAD IDEA. it's a lot harder to switch out of work mode. plus I find my room FULL of distractions (mainly the hours that can be wasted online). work in the library - it's quiet, you're instantly in work mode, and books are on hand. also, changes of scenery can be good when you hit a wall of concentration - I like to library hop, amongst different faculties and libraries, as long as I have the relevant books with me. oxford's unusually good for this, with a different library for each day of the month, but if you can work in cafes (watch caffeine intake, see below), a change of scenery that's NOT your room is often very helpful. then when you finish work, your home is where you rest and relax, and it's a lot easier to leave work aside .

2. beware caffeine loading. crunch times can become a bit like valley of the dolls, having to swap uppers and downers just to stay awake/get to sleep. if you can avoid caffeine after a certain time of day, do so, cos it'll not help at ALL. I'm not a massive fan of them, but friends like de-caf herbal teas and stuff when winding down - special night-time teas not only don't have caffeine in but are allegedly made with relaxing sleep-inducing herbs and stuff. YMMV.

3. it's hippy shit, but making your room smell nice helps a lot. burning essential oils or scented candles or even an aromatherapy room spray can help winding down/sleep. similarly, some essential oils/aromatherapy combos are good for concentration - even just a few drops (NOT neat oils) can be invigorating/relaxing as you choose. also, a nice scented bath before bed, or even a shower with some nice smelling shower gel type stuff, can be good for winding down.

4. don't eat right before you go to bed. your body and brain will stay awake digesting it - try and eat a few hours before you go to bed. though a warm drink sometimes helps - either sleepy herbal teas or milky drinks are good.

5. work to a routine if possible. during revision period, I like to work a full 9-5 day, taking regular breaks. I skim over my revision cards after dinner and then take the evening off to do something non-work related (films, a beer to relax, some gentle exercise). as had been said, if you dont know it then, you won't know it. though if you're well and truly fucked for an exam screw that. cramming might save your ass. but apart from being fucked beyond belief, regular and measured revision is what you need, and taking the evening off will help, rather than hinder you, esop. if it helps you wind down to a good night's sleep. alternately, not during exam period but in revision period, block your day into three sections of three hours each - morning, afternoon and evening. work two of these and take one off - I like to take evenings off, but some people are just not morning people. again, YMMV.

6. beware chemical products designed to help you sleep. I find that they're great if you can sleep for hours till you wake up naturally, but if you have to get up and be alert at a certain time, you may well be groggy and fuzzy the next morning. if you're used to sleeplessness, though obv. your body DOES need sleep, you'll be better in the exam with a little less sleep the previous night than completely foggy-headed because you're still not alert and awake yet.

good luck!
posted by kitschbitch at 3:48 AM on December 11, 2003

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