Animated Image of Students in The Class Where One is Asleep While Another One Pays Attention

Are Students Who Sleep Better
More Likely to Succeed?

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It’s no secret that students face immense pressure to do well in school. For teens, good grades can determine the college you’re accepted into, and for college and grad students, academic success can impact your career goals. 

 

Multiple factors can influence your achievements, but does sleep play a role? In this article, we’ll find out if students who sleep better are more likely to succeed. 

 

We’ll also look at students’ current sleep patterns, how they can improve their rest, and why developing good sleeping habits now will help them later in life.

Section 1

Are Students Getting Enough Sleep?

Section 2

What Causes Teens and Young Adults to Lose Rest?

Section 3

Signs of Sleep Deprivation

Section 4

Do Successful Students Sleep More?

Section 5

How Can Students Sleep Better?

Section 6

How Will Better Sleep Help Students Later in Life?

Section 1

Are Students Getting Enough Sleep?

Section 2

What Causes Teens and Young Adults to Lose Rest?

Section 3

Signs of Sleep Deprivation

Section 4

Do Successful Students Sleep More?

Section 5

How Can Students Sleep Better?

Section 6

How Will Better Sleep Help Students Later in Life?

Are Students Getting Enough Sleep?

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, teens should sleep [1] between 8 and 10 hours every night. 1 To develop these guidelines, the AASM developed a panel of 13 experts who reviewed over 800 articles of scientific research in order to come to an agreement on what is the optimum amount of sleep.

Student Group
Recommended Sleep
Average Sleep Among Group

High School

8-10h
Less than 8h
College
7 or more
6-6.9h

Graduate

7 or more
6.4h

They used a similar process for the recommended sleep time for adults [2], with the help of a 15-person expert panel. They concluded that adults 18 and older should get 7 or more hours of shut-eye.

 

Using this data as a reference point, experts can analyze whether students are meeting the recommended amounts of sleep.

 

In a CDC national student sample [3], they discovered that as many as 7 out of 10—or 72.7 percent—of students weren’t sleeping enough on school nights. Most of these students were sleeping for less than 8 hours, and the alarmingly high numbers reveal just how prevalent sleep deprivation is among young people.

students in a classroom

Unfortunately, college and grad students aren’t doing much better. The University of Georgia [4] Health Center reports that most college students only get 6-6.9 hours of sleep each night, which is below the minimum recommendation of 7.

 

A 2020 study examined stress and burnout among graduate students. Their findings also looked at how well grad students slept. They reported that the study participants only slept an average of 6.4 hours per night [5].

 

Learn More: How Much Sleep Do Teens Need?

What Causes Teens and Young Adults to Lose Rest?

Why, then, are so many young people not sleeping well? There are a variety of reasons contributing to this trend.

Late-Night Homework

Many students will often stay up late trying to study for an exam or work on homework. While some may have to do homework later due to extracurricular activities or a job, others may need the extra time to meet the demands of multiple classes.

teenager doing homework

Technology

Between computers, video games, and cell phones, young people are surrounded by technological distractions. Unfortunately, screen time can affect your quality of sleep. Research shows us that screen time before bed can impact people of all ages for several reasons [6].

 

The first is that the blue light emitted from the screen reduces the production of the melatonin hormone, which is responsible for keeping your sleep-wake cycle running smoothly. The second reason is that the devices stimulate your brain, making it difficult to quiet your mind as you prepare to sleep. Thirdly, notifications going off during the right could disrupt your REM – or deep sleep – cycle.

 

It’s also worth noting that even when you don’t use them right before bed, tech distractions may also cause you to put off doing homework and other tasks until later, which could still throw off your sleep schedule.

Emotional Stress

Dartmouth College [7] reports that over 50 percent of chronic sleep problems are caused by emotional stress, including depression and anxiety. They go on to add that high levels of stress can also lead to insomnia.

 

For teens and young adults, they are dealing with the demands of school, extracurricular activities, internships, and side jobs – all while trying to navigate social, family, and romantic relationships. A combination of these stressors could easily keep them from sleeping well.

sleep and depression

Inconsistent Sleep Schedules

Not having a consistent bedtime and wake-up time can also affect how well-rested you are. While some students might maintain a good sleep schedule during the week, that can quickly go out the window when the weekend rolls around.

 

A 2009 study that looked at the sleep habits of university students in Taiwan determined that there’s a link between irregular sleeping patterns [8] and insufficient rest.

Living Environment

It’s not just your habits, though. The environment you sleep in may also influence your sleep quality. 

 

College and graduate students, in particular, may have difficulty creating a relaxing sleep environment. From roommates to noisy neighbors, there are plenty of distractions that could keep you up at night.

 

Find Out More: 29 College Students Sleep Statistics

teenager sitting on her bed

Sleep Disorders

Young people may also struggle with sleep disorders  that interfere with rest. These include insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and restless leg syndrome. However, when it comes to sleep disorders, it’s best to consult with a physician who will be able to diagnose your sleep issue [9] properly.

Diet and Exercise

What you eat and drink can also trigger sleep problems. For example, caffeine and alcohol consumption can disrupt your sleep, while going to bed on a full or empty stomach may cause discomfort that makes it difficult to fall asleep.

 

Although exercise is essential for maintaining a healthy life, working out too late at night can give you a boost of energy that makes it hard to doze off at bedtime.

 

Get More Info: Exercise and Sleep – How to Target Your Workout Time

illustration of a chips bag calling a person to eat it

Biology

We might be quick to scold young people about their sleeping habits, but it’s not entirely their fault either. Research [10] established since the early 1990s determined that as teens got older, they were biologically wired to go to bed later. This is referred to as a Sleep Phase Delay, and it means that their circadian rhythm (or internal clock) makes it harder for them to go to bed before 11:00 pm.

 

Unfortunately, that doesn’t correlate with school and university schedules. Most schools begin classes [11] as early as 8:00 am, with some high schools starting even earlier at 7:30 am.

Signs of Sleep Deprivation

When you’re sleep-deprived, you will notice one – if not several – of these symptoms.

Mood Changes

illustration of a contrast between high and low moods
Mood disorders like anxiety and depression can lead to a lack of rest, but little sleep can also exacerbate these conditions or create an increased risk of developing them. When they don’t sleep enough, students may also experience more negative moods [12] like frustration, irritability, sadness, and anger. These types of mood disorders and changes could hinder their relationships with teachers, peers, and family.

Get Sick More Often

Not getting adequate sleep also means you’re more likely to get sick, and it could influence how long it takes you to recover from an illness. When you sleep, your body releases protective proteins called Cytokines [13]. However, when you’re not getting enough rest, the production of this protein decreases, leaving you more vulnerable to infections and diseases.

Daytime Drowsiness

We all know those students who fall asleep in class, and at times we may have been those students. Rather than passing judgment on yourself or the behavior, consider it could be related more closely to sleep deprivation than laziness. 

girl with her face down on disogranized desk

When you consistently feel sleepy during the day, there’s a high chance you didn’t get enough shut-eye the night before. Daytime drowsiness is also a common symptom to be aware of. Extreme tiredness in class is undoubtedly a cause for concern, but drowsiness can be dangerous – especially for students who drive since it increases their risk of an accident.

Inability to Concentrate

Difficulty concentrating is also an effect of sleep deprivation, and a lack of focus could certainly impact your ability to do well in school. When you’re unable to concentrate, you will notice you have a harder time paying attention in class and staying on track with homework and study assignments.

Memory Problems

Not enough rest could also negatively affect your memory, and for students who need to retain important information for tests and presentations, this is not good news. In the event you notice you’re more forgetful than usual, it’s a good opportunity to review your sleep habits.

Less Physical Strength

athlete lifting dumbbells

While some students participate in athletics for fun, others may rely on sports to get important scholarships and college opportunities.

 

Just as food fuels your body, so does sleep. However, when you don’t get the rest you need, you will have less physical strength and energy.  This means you are less likely to perform as well as you could, which is why rest is so crucial.

 

In fact, the data supports this. A 2011 study looked at how sleep affected the performance of college basketball players. They discovered that basketball players who achieved optimal sleep also reached their peak athletic performance [14].

 

Even for young people who don’t participate in their school’s sports, this can cause them to feel less inclined to exercise altogether.

Do Successful Students Sleep More?

Although this information implies that sleeping better leads to more success in school, is there actual data that proves it? Yes.

For example, a 2015 study [15] wanted to see if there was a correlation between sleep duration and academic performance among pharmaceutical students. Their research found that students who sleep longer did better on exams, resulting in higher semester grades and GPAs.

How Can Students Sleep Better?

Now understanding the relationship between sleep and success, students can take the initiative to improve their sleeping habits.

01

No Homework or Technology Right Before Bed

woman using phone laptop and tv

Students should avoid homework, studying, and technology – including social media – about an hour before bed. 

 

As tempting as it is to stay up late for more study time, the research shows us that you are more likely to do better if you go to bed earlier. In the event you have homework due the next day, experts recommend getting up early to finish it instead. 

 

It might be hard to give up scrolling through Instagram or playing video games, but cutting off your screen time before bed should also help your mind relax to fall asleep.

 

Find Out More: The Effect of Technology on Sleep

02

Create a Better Sleep Environment

For students who have trouble sleeping, improving their sleep environment could result in a better night’s rest. Light, temperature, and noise [16] are three main environmental factors that can affect sleep.

 

For students with noisy roommates who stay up later, try using devices like sleep masks or earplugs. Blackout curtains can also help knock out extra light from outside. It’s also a good idea to monitor your room’s temperature so that it’s not too hot or too cold, which should help you rest more comfortably.

Sensory friendly kids bedroom
03

Stick to a Schedule

Another helpful tip is to stick to a regular sleep schedule by going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time every day. While this might be more of a challenge on weekends, a consistent schedule should help keep your body’s internal clock in check.

04

Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol

student sitting at a organized desk

Cutting out caffeine, particularly later in the day and at night, seems like a no-brainer, but you might be tempted to use it while you finish up your homework. Rather, opt for a glass of water or a decaffeinated drink to give you some energy. 


In addition to caffeine, experts also suggest avoiding alcoholic beverages. For students of legal drinking age, you might think a glass of wine can help you wind down. While alcohol does make you sleepy, it could also lead to more disrupted sleep.

05

Don’t Eat Right Before Bed

When you’re going from class to class and then an evening team practice, rehearsal, or study session, you could easily find yourself putting off dinner until late at night. Instead of having a big meal, though, opt for a light snack that won’t leave you feeling uncomfortably full during the night.

06

Exercise Regularly

woman running on a track

Regular workouts should also help you sleep better. According to research, students who are in good physical condition fall asleep more quickly and rest better. For optimum results, you should exercise for at least 30 minutes three times a week about 5-7 hours before your bedtime – if not earlier.

07

Manage Your Concerns

Whether they’re school-related or personal, worries have an awful habit of creeping up at night. When you find that your worries keep you up, a good idea is to jot them down. Then, try to come up with solutions before you go to bed and plan your schedule for the next day. 

 

Writing them down and creating a game plan should make it easier for you to let go of those concerns when you go to sleep.

How Will Better Sleep Help Students Later in Life?

Student yawning in a class

The great news is that developing good habits as a student should translate to not only academic success but also success later in life when you enter your respective career field. Many high-level jobs will need you to function to the best of your ability, and if you’re not well-rested, this could affect your job performance. That’s why creating good habits early on is so important.

 

Good sleep should also keep you healthy [17] as you age. A full night’s sleep should help prevent weight gain, boost your immune system, strengthen your heart, and improve your memory.

[1] Shalini. Paruthi MD, Lee J. Brooks MD, Carolyn. D'Ambrosio MD, Wendy A. Hall PhD RN,  Suresh. Kotagal MD, Robin M. Lloyd MD, Beth A. Malow MD MS, et al. “Recommended Amount of Sleep for Pediatric Populations: A Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine”, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 2016.


[2] Nathaniel F. Watson MD MSc, M. Safwan. Badr MD, Gregory Belenky MD, Donald L. Bliwise PhD, Orfeu M. Buxton PhD, Daniel. Buysse MD, David F. Dinges PhD, “Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society”, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 2015.


[3] “Sleep in Middle and High School Students”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 10, 2020.


[4] “Sleep Rocks!…Get More of it!”, University Health Center at the University of Georgia 


[5] Hannah K. Allen, Angelica L. Barrall, Kathryn B. Vincent, Amelia M. Arria, “Stress and Burnout Among Graduate Students: Moderation by Sleep Duration and Quality”, Springer Link, 2020.


[6] “Why It’s Time to Ditch the Phone Before Bed”, SCL Health 


[7] “Improving Sleep”, Dartmouth College


[8] Jiunn-Horng. Kang, Shih-Ching. Chen, “Effects of an irregular bedtime schedule on sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, and fatigue among university students in Taiwan”, National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2009.


[9] “Sleep Deprivation”, Cedars Sinai


[10] Ruthann Richter, “Among teens, sleep deprivation an epidemic”, Stanford Medicine, 2015.


[11] Anne G. Wheaton PhD, Gabrielle A. Ferro PhD, Janet B. Croft PhD, “School Start Times for Middle School and High School Students — United States, 2011–12 School Year”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015.


[12] “Mood and Sleep”, Better Health Channel


[13] Eric J. Olson MD, “Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick?”, Mayo Clinic, November 28, 2018.


[14] Cheri D. Mah, Kenneth E. Mah, Eric J. Kezirian, William C. Dement, “The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players”, National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2011.


[15] Megan L. Zeek PharmD, Matthew J. Savoie PharmD, Salisa C. Westrick PhD MS, “Sleep Duration and Academic Performance Among Student Pharmacists”, National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2015.


[16] “External Factors that Influence Sleep”, Harvard University, December 18, 2007.


[17] “The Benefits of Getting a Full Night's Sleep”, SCL Health, 2018.

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