by Toyreh Blacknell, a Fall 2016 graduate of William Paterson University, NJ
Time is short. The not-long-enough 24 hour cycle of light and dark is one of the most prevalent patterns we experience as humans. College and high school students alike struggle with how to use those 24 precious hours a day to balance social life, extracurricular activities, and their studies—often among family and work duties. Sleep, which should take up 1/3rd of that cycle, is usually the first element to drop from the equation. Unfortunately, lack of sleep only serves to interrupt other physical, mental and emotional patterns, becoming the silent cause too many common ills. This fact has many parents wondering—what exactly is sleep’s effect on academic performance?
How much do students actually sleep?
“According to The Fall 2009 National College Health Assessment, 25% to 50% of college students report significant levels of daytime sleepiness, which may interfere with the performance of daily tasks such as… academics.” (Orzech et al 612).
This number may even be skewed, as research has also found that people tend to lie about the actual amount of sleep they get per night. Sleep, to some people is seen as a sign of weakness, and the less sleep a person gets, the cooler or more popular they are.
A Sleep Foundation poll found that 45% of students age 11-17 were receiving less than eight hours of sleep each school night. However, at those ages, nine is the recommended magic number—which only 20% of students actually achieve. A 2013 Gallup poll found that 40% of all Americans get less than seven hours of sleep per night—but what does that mean for students?
The research behind sleep’s effect on academic performance
A HealthMED study states that, “The average sleeping-awakening cycle is 8.5 hours for adolescents. For individuals, such as students who have important learning, memory and intellectual activities, sleeping quality should be especially excellent. Moreover, sufficient sleep and rest prevent work…and increase academic efficiency.”
According to a 2016 study published in the Madrige Journal of Nursing, students who get more sleep than usual the night before an exam had an overall higher GPA than students who slept less the night before the exam. In other words—sleep is just as important as studying.
Not only does more sleep equate to a higher GPA, but a 2010 study published in the University of Minnesota Undergraduate Journal of Psychology found that the number of days per week a student is sleep deprived also has a negative impact on grades. That means the more often a student is under-rested, the more likely their GPA is to drop. According to the study, the quality of sleep wasn’t nearly as important as the quantity of sleep. In other words, any sleep is good sleep.
More than just GPA
Although lack of sleep can make it difficult to accomplish daily tasks, it can also takes its toll on the body and mind. A brief search of medical studies reveals that in addition to causing fatigue, chronic sleep deprivation weight gain and cardiovascular concerns, sleep deprivation has an effect on moral judgment, risk perception, depression, and sexual function.
A Swedish study on survival training conducted at Karolinska University Hospital determined that sleep deprivation has consequences for attention, memory, visual-spatial relationships and risk taking.
“College students are well known for their erratic sleep schedules and late bedtimes,” according to a 2011 study published in The Journal of American College Health. “The National Sleep Foundation reports that insufficient sleep can be damaging and even life-threatening.”
According to studies at UCLA and the University of Chicago, lack of sleep also impacts immune system and inflammatory responses by affecting endocrine and other hormones, linking chronic sleep deprivation to cardiovascular disease and type two diabetes.
Not only that, but fatigue can increase tension and anxiety, as well as anger and hostility, (Takasu et al 84). A study at the University of California examined the vocal expression of emotion in 55 healthy women and teenage girls in a controlled sleep study. After a maximum of two hours sleep, each of the women showed a decrease in positive emotion and an increase in negative emotion.
Sleeping better more often
Lack of sleep interferes with memory retention from studying and being in class, it lowers grade point averages and it also disturbs students emotionally. When students are sleepy their minds are not open to learning because all they can think about is sleeping. This impairs their learning abilities and causes a decrease in grades.
The University of Michigan offers this helpful cheat-sheet for getting better sleep with simple easy-to-implement tips.
If you or your student is having trouble sleeping, or balancing your mounting to-do list, contact Danielle@mindKEY.me for a free consult. We’ll see what resources are available to help you create more time and wellness in a way that is easy and sustainable for you.