Medically reviewed by:
Carlos Del Rio-Bermudez
Carlos is a neuroscientist and a medical & science writer with more than eight years of research experience in the field of Neuroscience. Prior to working full time as a medical writer, he was a postdoctoral researcher at the University Hospital of Bern (Switzerland). Carlos obtained his PhD from the University of Iowa (USA), supported by the Fulbright Program.
Some of the areas Carlos focuses on are RNA therapeutics, Rare Diseases, and REMS/RMPs. He has authored multiple original research papers in top journals in the field, book chapters, and periodicals. Carlos has also participated in international scientific meetings; most notably, he was invited to present his dissertation research at the 2018 Gordon Research Conference on Sleep Regulation and Function.
What are all the things you are willing to do to improve your grades? Sure, you have to sit down and study, but what if we tell you that improving your sleep will make everything else fall into place?
Perhaps this sounds too easy, but trust us, it is not. In fact, fixing unhealthy sleep habits may be harder than acing your next big test. Indeed, sleep problems among young adults are a serious concern because they pose a threat not just to academic performance, but also overall health and wellbeing.
The idea here is that sleep helps us learn, so if you are ready to get to the bottom of the problem and enhance your academic performance, stay tuned because we have all the information, tips, and tricks you need.
What Is Keeping Students Up At Night?
Sure, parties would be pretty much everyone’s first assumption, and sometimes they are the reason why many students are not getting enough sleep. But how many people actually party every single night?
The reality is that many students work after class, do sports, or are members of various university societies and have a rich social life. Many students also stay up late to study. All those activities leave little to no time for a regular sleep schedule.
On the other hand, college life is stressful, and many students do not know how to cope with all the ongoing changes in their life, especially freshmen. Thus, it is not rare that some derived problems like anxiety and depression are behind sleep deprivation in young adults.
Whether students are trying to catch up on their busy schedules at night, studying late, or just scrolling through Instagram, these habits can very quickly turn into a harmful pattern and disrupt sleep for good. And it all reflects on academic success.
How Important Is Sleep for College Students?
Although it is not always on the top of their priority list, sleep is essential for students. A good night’s sleep allows our brains to reset, and improves our memory and concentration.
Lack of sleep can impact productivity, cause mood swings, irritability, daytime sleepiness, impair memory and cognitive abilities, and lead to anxiety and other mental problems. In addition, poor sleep weakens our immune system and makes us more prone to viruses and inflammations.
As you may have guessed by now, these deleterious effects associated with sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality have a profound impact on students’ ability to focus and to perform at school.
So, How Sleep Impacts Grades?
A study conducted during 2007 and 2008 followed sleep habits and GPA results of 1,845 students of one public university, to answer the question whether sleep can influence their academic performance.
The vast majority of students who participated in this survey considered themselves as more “evening” type of people. This is interesting because circadian preference (also known as chronotype) may also impact sleep habits and daily performance.
Regarding sleep disturbances, the results of the study showed that more than 500 students, around 27% of them, were at a higher risk of developing at least one sleep disorder. While the prevalence of nightmares and sleepwalking was low, the rates for insomnia were extremely high. In terms of gender, there were no significant differences in risk for hypersomnia or obstructive sleep apnea. But it turned out that female students were at higher risk for insomnia, nightmares, restless leg syndrome, and affective disorder.
When it comes to sleep duration, on average, students slept for 6,5 hours during workdays, and 9,3 hours during weekends, holidays, or on the days when they do not have classes. Around 40% of them claimed that they do not worry at all about their sleep length, while only 19% of students claimed that they do worry whether they are going to sleep enough or not.
How does all this relate to academic performance? The statistical tests that the authors used used to address the impact of sleep disorders on students’ GPA scores revealed that those who did not report any sleep disorder had higher scores. Interestingly, GPA scores were better among those students who considered themselves early birds, in comparison to night owls.
In most cases, average GPA scores correlated with the number of sleep hours. Those who generally sleep more before school had higher grades. The study also showed that students who were at a higher risk of insomnia or OSA also were at risk of academic probation.
It seems clear from this and other studies that neglecting sleep is clearly a bad idea if you want to do well in school.
How to Establish a Healthy Sleep Routine
We mentioned before that fixing your sleep might be harder than fixing your grades, but one hardly goes without another, so if you want to perform better, you first have to put your bedtime routine back in order.
How much sleep do I need? According to most scientists, approximately 7-8 hours of proper sleep per night is enough for younger adults. However, getting this much sleep may be hard because, of course, you have places to be and things to do.
However, you have to set your priorities, so let’s see what you can do to start sleeping better and eventually perform better and feeling healthier overall
Sleep Tips for College Students
First, and probably the hardest thing. Try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Not too late, not too early. Since we all have different schedules, we will leave it up to you to pick the time, just keep in mind that you should sleep for approximately 8 hours.
Plan your meals, and avoid eating late at night or right before bedtime. Also, forget about drinking caffeine in late afternoon hours. Caffeine stays in our system hours after consumption, and it is one of the main sleep disruptors.
Limit your screen time around bedtime. This is a hard one, too, because students spend a lot of time on their laptops and phones. Just try to stay offline and off-screen for at least one hour prior to your bedtime!
If you are not tired around bedtime, try working out, jogging, or walking outside, anything that will make you crave a bit of a snooze. Bear in mind, however, that you should void strong artificial lights around bedtime.
If you live in a college dorm or you have roommates, it is probably noisy all the time. Use earplugs to isolate yourself from the surroundings, and an eye mask to block any source of light. Among essentials are also a comfortable pillow and a mattress for college students.
Learning How to Sleep
Kids learn a lot of things at college, but no one teaches them about the importance of sleeping during those “wild” years. So besides learning about literature, physics, or law, students should also learn to follow a regular sleep schedule and avoid the side effects of irregular sleep/wake patterns.