When is the best time to study? If you’re busy with a full-time job and a family, your response might be, “Whenever I can!” But if you’ve got some flexibility, it’s helpful to know that research shows some times are better for studying and acquiring new information than others. Aligning your study schedule with the times your brain is primed to engage with new material can help you work smarter, not harder.
Is there really a best time to study?
Research on the best time to study is rooted in the field of chronobiology, which explores how our brains and bodies are affected by time. Our circadian rhythms--essentially, the cyclical ways in which our bodies respond to our environment and hormones--play an important role in determining when we’re primed to do certain activities. Studying at a time that’s optimal for your body can help you
- Learn new concepts more easily
- Retain information better
- Make better decisions
- Be more creative
Best time to study according to science
According to science, there are two windows of time the brain is most receptive to new material: 10:00 am to 2:00 pm, and 4:00 pm to 10:00 pm. The worst time to study is between 4:00 am to 7:00 am, so if you’re studying while juggling other responsibilities, it might be better to pull a late night rather than an early morning. It’s important to note that young adults may be a bit of an exception to this rule. Studies have shown that the circadian rhythms of young adults between the ages of 14-24 tend to run about 2-3 hours behind young children or mature adults. For those in this age group, prime study windows might be a little later.
Is it better to study day or night?
Though science can play a role in determining when it’s best for you to study, it isn’t the only factor you should consider. Studying during the day and hitting the books at night can have different benefits and drawbacks, depending on your environment and personal preferences. If you study during the day, you might benefit from
- Optimal learning windows
- Natural light
- Feeling rested after a good night’s sleep
However, studying at night may be a better idea if you
- Feel more alert during the 4:00 pm-10:00 pm learning window
- Have fewer interruptions or demands on your time
- Follow a schedule that already significantly alters your circadian rhythms
Though every person’s best time to study is unique, aligning your study habits with chronobiology can help you improve your performance. That said, it’s important to be flexible. What works for you one week may be completely unrealistic the next, depending on what you’ve got going on. If flexibility in when you study is a primary concern for you, then consider taking classes online. Online classes that allow you to set your own pace and work on your coursework when it’s best for you (like those from StraighterLine) can help you make the most of your daily rhythms and schedule.
Anissa Sorokin, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of English and Writing Program Administrator at Stevenson University near Baltimore, Maryland. Anissa’s interdisciplinary background and extensive experience teaching research, writing, and study skills help her demystify college expectations for students online and in her classroom. Looking for strategies on improving your study habits while learning online? Read our Tips for Effective Online Learning and become more successful in your online classes.