Impact of Sleep on Academic Performance in College Students

Better Sleep = Better Grades: How Sleep Impacts Academic Performance in College Students

Despite what’s happening around us, college students are preparing to head back to the classroom. With the return to – or the start of – post-secondary academic life, the correlation between the academic performance of college students and sleep becomes even more critical.

College students need sleep, but rarely get enough of it. Between class schedules, studying, cheap bedroom furniture, and a student’s social calendar, sleep is often one of the aspects of a student life that is sacrificed… and it shows.

A lack of proper sleep can lead to a student being unable to focus on what they are in school to learn. Studies have shown that a reduction in the quantity and quality of sleep can lead to decreased cognitive skills, emotional instability, and decreased motor skills. All of these can impact a student’s day-to-day life.

The brain needs time to reset and rest itself. If a student doesn’t give their mind and body time to rest, they will not be at their best for whatever the day may hold. This is especially important during any kind of learning phase, as it is far more difficult to learn something new when the mind is tired. This often-overlooked aspect of a student’s life – the hours they spend sleeping – but it can make a significant difference in the success or failure of a student. And considering the investment that students (and their parents) make in post-secondary education, that can be a costly mistake.

Impact of Sleep on Academic Performance in College Students

On average, a student needs about 7-9 hours of sleep. But late-night cram sessions, social activities, tossing & turning on an uncomfortable mattress, and even Netflix marathons can reduce that time dramatically.

In fact, recent studies have shown that the average University student gets only 6.9 hours of sleep, which is just below the minimum. The study also showed that 68% of the student body is not receiving the minimum amount of sleep they need to reach their educational potential.

Students who are cheating themselves of sleep now, even a little bit at a time, can hurt their future. In fact, a recent publication by Sleep Advisor showed some of the potentially negative impacts sleep deprivation can have on college students.

Imagine for a moment if a laptop or mobile device’s battery isn’t being recharged properly. Over time, you will notice that the device is not working as well as it should. It will slow down, become unresponsive, and might even crash when you need it most. Sleep is the time to recharge the body’s internal batteries.

Students often take that recharge cycle for granted, compromising on their sleep schedule for “more important things” that need to get done. It can even be seen as a badge of honor to pull all-nighters. But, in the end, it is the student and their grades that will suffer.  

Quality sleep leads to quality work. And in order to get the best quality of sleep, you must invest in your sleep hygiene.  

The Facts about Sleep and Grades

Tired College Student Asleep on a Stack of Books

Does lack of sleep decrease a student’s ability to function?

Absolutely.  Unhealthy sleep habits have been linked to decreased cognitive functions. These impediments can include a decreased ability to absorb new information, mood swings, lack of motivation, as well as decreased motor skills & coordination.

Can sleep impact academic performance?

A sleep study conducted by the University of Minnesota showed that reduced sleep had a direct correlation to a reduction in student learning that resulted in lower average grades. Partial sleep deprivation during the week, as well as the average amount of sleep obtained on a given night, were both shown to be directed related to GPA.

How many hours of sleep is healthy for a student?

The general recommendation of 7-9 hours of sleep is a good place to start. Anything below 5 hours can have a dramatic impact on grades, causing a 10 – 20% decline in average test scores, especially if it becomes habitual. 

Student progression at its fundamental core revolves around the mental health of the student. Few factors play as critical and consistent a role in mental health as sleep does.

How can college students can get into a good sleep schedule?

Female College Student Sleeping

Here are some tips that can help get any student back on the right sleep track in time for recuperate their grades before the end of the term.

Exercise – Despite their busy schedules, students should incorporate a healthy amount of activity into their daily routine. Going for walks or light jogs, and even doing chores around the house or dorm can help.  Target a minimum of 20-30 minutes of exercise per day but try to a avoid doing that exercise right before going to bed. Jogging around campus and/or going to the school gym can be a great way to get fit and improve sleep!  

Avoid Caffeine – Although I do LOVE a good cup of coffee, students should try and avoid caffeine in the later parts of the afternoon & evening. This includes coffee (unless they switch to decaf), caffeinated sodas, and chocolate; all of which include high levels of caffeine.

Power Down – A student should give themselves at least 1 hour of electronic-free time before bed, to allow the brain to cycle down from the constant influx of electronic stimuli.

Upgrade Bedding – Although a student’s budget can be tight, one place that should not be scrimped on is the bedding. A quality mattress, comfortable sheets, and a good pillow can make a huge difference in how quickly and easily a student can drift off to sleep and how long they can stay asleep without waking up due to discomfort.

Relax – There are some few things that can relax the body and prepare it for a full night’s rest. Enjoy some herbals teas, such as chamomile. Take a warm bath, perhaps indulge in a book for an hour or so. These things could help relax a student’s mind and put them you into the proper mindset for sleep.

Should college students use alternatives to help them sleep? Such as alcohol and drugs?

Although drugs and alcohol can create drowsiness, they also effect the overall quality of sleep and do not allow for the restorative, REM sleep process. Therefore, using drugs (including so-called sleep aids) or alcohol as a substitute for sleep should be avoided.

Quality of Sleep: Why it is important for college students.

A Group of College Students

Students who can gain more hours of quality sleep are much more likely to function at an improved academic level. They will be more responsive, more engaged in the material they are studying, and be able to retain more of the new information they receive.

That is why sleep is a fundamental function for a student’s well-being and growth while they are awake. As studies have shown, nobody can not expect a student to achieve their full potential on less than 5 hours of sleep per night.

But it’s not just the quantity of sleep, it is also about the quality. In order to get a good night’s rest, a student needs to be able to wind down, and relax, and get comfortable.

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