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September 5th, 2012

Test Tomorrow? Get Your Sleep


While increased study time unquestionably helps get better grades, when it comes at the expense of sleep it may be better to hit the pillow than to hit the books.

With students taking home more work than ever before, and video games and energy drinks to keep them up at night, researchers worry that teens do not get enough sleep. Lack of rest can contribute to lower academic performance.

A new study published in the Journal of Child Development challenges the old adage that the more you study, the better your grades. When sleeping is added into the equation it becomes an important indicator of how well students perform in school the following day.

The study found that 10th and 12th graders who studied more than average on a given night experienced more academic problems at school the next day. The study was longitudinal, which means that it followed students through time from the 9th to 10th and 12th grades, asking them to record the number of hours spent studying and sleeping each night for two week periods. The results indicated that students learn best when distributing study time evenly over the course of a few days.

The importance of sleep for teens

After a bad bout of sleep, students are often groggy the following day, making them less responsive in the classroom.

“Lots of things happen during sleep,” Helene Emsellem, director of The Center for Sleep and Wake Disorders in Chevy Chase, Md. told NPR.

“We don’t just physically restore ourselves. We also process all the information we’ve gathered during the day. We take the information and organize it and make all the connections,” Emsellem explains. Without adequate sleep, students do not learn as well.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, over 60 percent of high school students are sleep-deprived.  Teens require at least 9 hours of sleep each night but rarely get it. With homework, after school activities, jobs and social events, getting enough sleep is no easy feat.

Teens’ biological clocks are also working against them. Naturally, teens find it difficult to fall asleep before 11 p.m. and wake up before 8 a.m.  Many high schools start before 8 in order to free up buses for transporting middle school students.

However, a recent study by a private Rhode Island school showed that there may be benefits to later start times, especially for high-schoolers. The study found that moving start times from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. increased the number of students getting 8 hours of sleep from 16 percent to 55 percent.  This also coincided with improved attendance, fewer visits to the school clinic and improved moods of students.

Sleep is an important part of the memory process. It helps students retain and store the information they’ve learned throughout the day.


Are teens staying up later?

In addition to teens’ natural sleep rhythms, there may be other factors causing students to stay up late at night.

A Drexel University study concluded that an increase in caffeine from energy drinks and sodas is the culprit in keeping students up late.

And while another study from the University of Michigan showed that homework loads have increased by over 50 percent since 1980, Drexel found that teens are not necessarily spending these extra hours studying, but rather surfing the web, text messaging and gaming.

Tips to get more sleep

Amy Wolfson, a professor of psychology at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. gave some tips to NPR on how to combat the perils of cramming for tests at the expense of sleep:

  1. Keep a regular sleep-wake schedule. A fluctuating schedule by more than 60 to 90 minutes, even on weekends, can have negative consequences on a student’s mood, health and academic performance.
  2. Aim for 8 ½ to 9 ½ hours of sleep each night.
  3. Keep a regular study schedule. Late night studying can make it difficult to fall asleep.
  4. Move tech items such as cell phones and computers out of your bedroom. These can affect the ability to fall asleep and can wake you during the night.
  5. Cut out caffeine from your diet, especially 3 to 5 hours before bedtime.

–Compiled by Jessica Fink for NewsHour Extra

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