Study: To boost your GPA, get some sleep
According to the study, for every extra day a student experienced sleep problems, they were 10% more likely to drop a course.
It's been known for a long time that college students don't get enough sleep, but this has too often been considered an unavoidable quirk of growing up, a baggy-eyed rite of passage to adulthood. However, a new study has quantified exactly how damaging lack of sleep can be to academic success and general health in college students, and it suggests that sleep problems don't have to be a quintessential feature of the college experience.
Using a large data set of over 55,000 college students, the study found that for every extra day a student experienced sleep problems, they were 10% more likely to drop a course, and their GPA dropped by 0.02. For freshmen, this could be disastrous; students who drop a single course in their first year are 16% less likely to graduate in the next six.
Moreover, the study found that sleep disturbances had a greater effect on GPA than being diagnosed with depression or anxiety. If you have a learning disability or are a frequent binge drinker, you would be more likely to stay in all of your courses than if you experience sleep disturbances. For first-year students, poor sleep has as much of an impact on academic performance as excessively drinking alcohol or using marijuana or other drugs—only prescription pill abuse was worse.
Poor sleep's compounding impact
Both students and educators recognize that poor sleep affects academic performance, but it's possible that they are underestimating the severity and systemic nature of poor sleep. Not getting enough sleep has a dizzying range of effects. It weakens the immune system, exacerbates underlying mental illness, increases the likelihood of being in a car accident, and encourages risk-taking behavior in general. Researchers have found that sleep deprivation is akin to being drunk. What's more, getting a good night's sleep is an essential, non-negotiable part of encoding memories and learning, which clearly matters for academic success.
According to the survey used in this study, students reported that the biggest challenges to their academic success were stress (34%), anxiety (26%), sleep difficulties (22%), and having a cold or the flu (17%). Not only do sleeping problems exacerbate and encourage all of these, but these issues prevent a good night's sleep, causing a vicious cycle.
This graph depicts the clear relationship between days with sleep disturbances and students' likelihood of having a C-, D-, or F-equivalent GPA (image by Monica E. Hartmann/J. Roxanne Prichard).
What can be done?
For the most part, universities have left the burden of sleep education on the students. According to the study, only 27% of students reported that they had received information from their universities about the impact of sleep on their health. Sleep education was outranked by education on tobacco use, nutrition, stress reduction, colds and flu, and many other health-related items. While educating students about these issues is important, developing and maintaining proper sleep hygiene may have a greater impact on students' performance in school and reduce their exposure to the health issues universities tend to prioritize over sleep.
In recognition of its importance, some colleges have implemented courses on the subject of sleep. NYU's While You Were Sleeping course covers both practical advice on how students can improve their sleeping habits as well as the science behind how sleep works. In a separate study on the impact of this course, it was found that students enrolled in While You Were Sleeping slept 22 minutes longer on average and fell asleep nine minutes quicker.
Educating students about managing their sleep schedules is certainly a positive, but institutions can also recognize that the sleep schedules of teenagers and young adults are fundamentally different than those of adults. Adolescents need nine hours of sleep per night, and their sleep undergoes a phase shift—meaning they are naturally disposed to go to sleep later and wake up later than adults.
High schools and universities that have delayed their start times reported improved attendance and academic performance. The U.S. Air Force Academy delayed their start time by 50 minutes and found that students not only performed better in their first class but also in every class throughout the day.
For bleary-eyed students reading this article, there are a few steps that can be taken straight away to improve your sleep. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day is probably the best place to start. Don't stay up late to cram for an exam or finish homework—you need sleep to remember what you've studied and to perform well. Avoid using electronics and anything with lights before bedtime since using these devices hampers the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has a list of further suggestions that will have you sawing logs the whole night through.
- Great Preventative Cold Medicine? A Good Night's Sleep. | Big Think ›
- Poor sleep will cost the U.S. half a trillion dollars in 2020 | Big Think ›
- 0726 The Impact of Sleep on GPA and Internalizing Symptoms in ... ›
- Study links college students' grades to sleep schedules - CNN ›
- The Role of Sleep in Predicting College Academic Performance: Is It ... ›
Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.
No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.
A NASA astronomer explains how astronauts dispose of their, uh, dark matter.
- When nature calls in micro-gravity, astronauts must answer. Space agencies have developed suction-based toilets – with a camera built in to ensure all the waste is contained before "flushing".
- Yes, there have been floaters in space. The early days of space exploration were a learning curve!
- Amazingly, you don't need gravity to digest food. Peristalsis, the process by which your throat and intestines squeeze themselves, actually moves food and water through your digestive system without gravity at all.
Carl Sagan liked to smoke weed. His essay on why is fascinating.
- Carl Sagan was a life long marijuana user and closeted advocate of legalization.
- He once wrote an anonymous essay on the effects it had on his life and why he felt it should be legalized.
- His insights will be vital as many societies begin to legalize marijuana.
A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.
- The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
- Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
- Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.