Study Finds Sacrificing Sleep to Study Can Lead to Academic Problems

Posted on August 22, 2012

A new study has found that sacrificing sleep to study more can lead to academic problems. The researchers say that regardless of how much a high school student generally studies each day, if that student sacrifices sleep in order to study more than usual, he or she is more likely to have academic problems the following day. The researchers also say that because students tend to increasingly sacrifice sleep time for studying in the latter years of high school, this negative dynamic becomes more and more prevalent over time. The researchers found that by the 12th grade, students slept for an average of 41.4 fewer minutes each school night than they did in 9th grade.

The results are the findings of a new longitudinal study that focused on daily and yearly variations of students who sacrifice sleep to study. The research was conducted and at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and appears here in the journal Child Development.

Andrew J. Fuligni, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and a senior scientist at the Jane and Terry Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, who worked on the study, says, "Sacrificing sleep for extra study time is counterproductive. Academic success may depend on finding strategies to avoid having to give up sleep to study, such as maintaining a consistent study schedule across days, using school time as efficiently as possible, and sacrificing time spent on other, less essential activities."

For 14 days in each of the 9th, 10th, and 12th grades, 535 students from several Los Angeles-area high schools reported in diaries how long they studied, how long they slept, and whether or not they experienced two types of academic problems. These academic problems include not understanding something taught in class or performing poorly on a test, quiz, or homework. The students represented a mix of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. Although the researchers expected that extra hours of studying that ate into sleep time might create problems in terms of students' understanding of what they were taught in class, they were surprised to find that diminishing sleep in order to study was actually associated with doing more poorly on a test, quiz, or homework (the opposite of the students' intent).

Fuligni says, "As other studies have found, our results indicated that extra time spent studying cuts into adolescents' sleep on a daily basis, and it is this reduced sleep that accounts for the increase in academic problems that occurs after days of increased studying. Although these nights of extra studying may seem necessary, they can come at a cost."

The study suggests that many high school students could benefit from help with time management. There is a lot of pressure on students to get good grades and it can be very difficult to find a balance between the right amount of study time and the right amount of sleep. The study suggests that at some point extra studying becomes too costly as it starts making a student too tired to learn and/or remember what they have learned. On the other hand, an all-night cramming session can be worth it, such as a scenario where a college student has not been keeping up at all with the subject matter and has an exam the very next day. Getting a good night's sleep won't help you on the exam if you have absolutely no knowledge of the subject matter. The difficult trick is to keep up with your studying so that you can avoid the late-night cramming sessions.

More from Science Space & Robots