Want To Ace Your Tests? Catch Some ZZZ's!

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An MIT study finds getting consistently enough sleep can improve academic performance (Credit: Michelle Foong/YouTube screen capture)

Sleep, considered a luxury by many, is essential for a person's wellbeing. Researchers have found that insufficient sleep increases a person's risk of developing severe medical conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Now, a new study by Boston's Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has found that getting sufficient sleep is also the key to improving academic performance.

Jeffrey Grossman, who led the research, was not trying to find the correlation between sleep and grades when he handed out Fitbits to the 100 students in his Introduction to Solid-State Chemistry class. Instead, the professor of Computational Materials Science hoped the popular wrist-worn device which, tracks a person’s activity 24/7, would show a connection between physical exercise and academic achievement.

As part of the research, a quarter of the participants were enrolled in an intense fitness class specially created for the study by assistant professors Carrie Moore and Matthew Breen. After the semester ended, the researchers carefully analyzed the data. Much to Grossman's surprise, they found no measurable difference in test performance between the group that had been physically active and the group that had not. “What we found at the end of the day was zero correlation with fitness, which I must say was disappointing since I believed, and still believe, there is a tremendous positive impact of exercise on cognitive performance,” Grossman says.

Insufficient sleep can result in numerous medical conditions (Credit: Complete Family Wellness/Twitter)

However, the study, published in the journal Science of Learning on October 1, 2019, yielded a surprising insight. As the researchers were parsing through the large amount of data, they noticed an interesting trend emerging from the participants' sleep patterns. There was a straight-line relationship between the average amount of sleep a student got and his/her grade on the 11 quizzes, three midterms, and the final exam administered during the semester. “There’s lots of scatter, it’s a noisy plot, but it’s a straight line,” Grossman says. Though the professor was not surprised at the correlation between sleep and performance, he was stunned at how widespread it was.

Even more interesting, it was also not sufficient for students to just head to bed early the night before a test. Grossman says, "We've heard the phrase ‘Get a good night’s sleep, you've got a big day tomorrow.' It turns out this does not correlate at all with test performance. Instead, it's the sleep you get during the days when learning is happening that matter most.”

Going to sleep at a reasonable hour is as important as getting enough sleep for your wellbeing (Credit: Airman 1st Class Breanna Klemm/US Air Force/Public Domain)

The time students went to bed each night was similarly important. Those who went to bed in the early hours of the morning performed poorly, even if the total sleep time was the same as a higher-performing student. “When you go to bed matters,” Grossman says. “If you get a certain amount of sleep — let’s say seven hours — no matter when you get that sleep, as long as it’s before certain times, say you go to bed at 10, or at 12, or at 1, your performance is the same. But if you go to bed after 2, your performance starts to go down even if you get the same seven hours. So, quantity isn’t everything.”

Robert Stickgold, a professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Harvard Medical School, who was not connected with this study, was not surprised at the results. However, he was amazed at the impact slight variations in sleep patterns had on the students' grades. Stickgold says, "The overall course grades for students averaging six and a half hours of sleep were down 50 percent from other students who averaged just one hour more sleep. Similarly, those who had just a half-hour more night-to-night variation in their total sleep time had grades that dropped 45 percent below others with less variation. This is huge!”

The research does not prove that sleep is the only factor that helps improve academic performance. However, Grossman says the results are a strong indication that sleep “really, really matters. "Who knew getting A's just required some extra ZZZ's?

Resources: news.mit.edu


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  • summer_beach
    summer_beach12 months
    Wow! The least sleep I have ever gotten was when I went to a sleep over at my Mamaw's house. I went to sleep at around 1:56am and got up at around 4:20am!
    • adroit_avimimus
      adroit_avimimusover 1 year
      This is so true! People in my school who sleep at 12 and have to get up at 5 to get on the bus are pretty moody! For me, I have curfew, so I have straight A's!
    • unknown_user14
      unknown_user14over 1 year
      One time, I stayed up until 1:24, plus I had my electronics on with me.
      • techfashion0315
        techfashion0315over 1 year
        LOL! The longest I ever stayed up was 5:00 A.M. My grandparents wanted a light above their dining room table, and since my dad is quite the handyman, my family offered to help. We came there at 7:00 P.M and didn't get back to our house until 5:00 A.M. Installing electrical is hard!
    • marypopcorn
      marypopcornabout 2 years
      Who would have thought that sleep affects your grades? Oh, wait, that's right, EVERYONE!!!!!!!!
      • gaurdain
        gaurdainover 2 years
        I go to bed at 9 and wake up at 10 a.m
        • lucky_jean
          lucky_jeanalmost 3 years
          I should sleep more~~
          • saladdressing
            saladdressingalmost 3 years
            Lately since school has started I fall asleep at 9:30 to 10 and wake up at 5
            • moores55
              moores55about 3 years
              I go to bed at 9:30 and wake up at 7:20
            • glowinq_stxrs
              glowinq_stxrsover 3 years
              I have 2 exams left and I’m working hard to get good grades on them
              • cr4td4l
                cr4td4lover 3 years
                I wake up at about 8:00 am and go to bed at 10:00 pm. I'm half a cat!