How Important Is Sleep to Academic Success?

Better sleep is a key component to better studying in college. Here's how you can improve your sleep and in turn boost your academic performance.

College students have a lot of activities to include in their academic schedule. This often means sacrificing sleep and accumulating sleep debt. But in addition to causing many somatic disorders, sleep deprivation can also adversely affect academic achievement.

If you want to boost your academic performance, you should start with improving your sleep—both the quantity and quality you get each night. Here’s how to maintain good grades without dozing off during lectures.

Related: Feeling Tired? How to Address Sleep Problems in College

How much sleep do college students need?

You’ve probably heard that a solid eight hours of sleep is the golden rule. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that teenagers up to 18 years old need at least eight to 10 hours of sleep per day, and young adults (ages 18­–25 years) need between seven and nine, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

But that’s not the end of the story: high-quality bedtime consists of more than the number of hours spent sleeping. Healthy sleep patterns also matter, and sometimes their contribution to academic achievement is more remarkable. See for yourself:

REM is responsible for memorization

In this sleeping phase, your brain processes and structures information it learned during the day. The more sleep you get, the better your brain is at storing this information. That’s why you shouldn’t neglect good rest before exams.

Proper sleep means an ability to function well the next day

Study week is like a working week; you need to be ready for participating in college life five days in a row. Studies show that sleep-deprived college students are less likely to score higher on tests, be active during classes, or make important decisions.

Sleep maintains your circadian clock

The circadian clock is responsible for a ton of functions in our body. By depriving yourself of sleep, you disrupt these functions. And your professor certainly won’t appreciate if you’re always late for classes because of an imbalanced sleep schedule.

Want to know something interesting? In a recent study, researchers found that quality of sleep may be tied to different fields of study. Thus, more stressful and immersive study fields, such as medical sciences or architecture, may leave less room for quality rest.

How does lack of sleep affect academic performance?

Prolonged sleep deprivation in college will show adverse effects sooner or later. Researchers agree that sleep-deprived students are most likely suffering from the following problems:

Lower grades

Many studies confirm a direct relation between sleep schedules and academic achievement. For example, University of Georgia research shows that poor sleep negatively affected the productivity of one in four students. They often missed project deadlines, which resulted in lower grades. Some of them even felt the need to drop a course.

Memory issues

Memorization and understanding are vital skills in a good student. Unfortunately, with poor sleep, one can quickly lose the ability to digest information. Sleep deprivation affects neuroplasticity in the hippocampus, the main brain structure that’s responsible for memory formation.

Risk of getting sick

It’s no secret that short and insufficient shut-eye is the reason behind the weak immune system. A whole cocktail of hormones and other substances that regulate the immune shields appear in your blood during sleep. By reducing your hours of slumber, you make yourself more prone to viral and bacterial infections. Moreover, if you catch a cold, you can become contagious to your roommates in a dorm, and they won’t thank you for this.

Impairment of social skills

Along with slowing memory formation, a lack of sleep can also impact your social skills. This results in an inability to recognize social cues, a poor sense of humor, and increased antagonizing behavior. If you’re working on a group project, these are probably traits your classmates—and professors—don’t want to encounter.

Tips for improving your sleep in college

Now that you’re aware of how a lack of sleep may wreck your college life, you probably want to know how to find the desired balance. These tips will certainly help:

Stick to a regular schedule

This sounds obvious, but sometimes the first step is the hardest. You need to make sleep a priority. Stick to the solid seven to nine hours per night and balance the remaining time between your studies, extracurricular activities, and social life. You may also start doing this on weekends, so when Monday approaches, you’ll be ready for the week ahead.

Create a sleep-friendly environment

Ideally, your bed should be used only for sleeping. Do your homework at your desk or in the library. Also, if your bed is next to the window, consider investing in a sleep mask or curtains. Remember that melatonin (a hormone that helps regulate your sleep–wake cycle) is produced in total darkness.

No electronics before bedtime

Blue light slows melatonin production, so be sure to shut off any device an hour before bedtime. Instead of playing on your phone, try reading a book. (You can even choose the most boring one from your classes—you’ll fall asleep inevitably!)

Related: 5 Quick and Easy Tips to Sleep Better in College

Find the time to wind down

Sometimes it’s just impossible to distance yourself from your thoughts and worries. That’s why it’s essential to develop some relaxing rituals that will set you in a mood for sleep. For example, you can take a hot, relaxing shower or drink a cup of warm herbal tea before bed. Just make sure you repeat these rituals every day at about the same time so your brain will develop positive and soothing associations.

Limit caffeine

Coffee can be a refreshing potion after a sleepless night. But if you like to drink a couple of cups during the day, it might contribute to your insomnia and create a vicious circle to some extent. For better sleep, it’s advisable to drink your last serving of coffee around five or six hours before bedtime.

Related: Caffeine Cravings: What to Choose, What to Avoid

As you can see, good sleep is crucial for your academic success. As a college student, you may feel that homework occupies all your time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find the ideal balance and maintain the right balance through your college life. Surely you can!

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