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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467 Comments
  • fanofdantdm
    fanofdantdmFriday, February 7, 2020 at 3:42 pm
    Umm oops am I going to get diabetes or a heart disease if I don't sleep? DEPRESSING.
    • wolfy9
      wolfy9Sunday, January 26, 2020 at 5:11 pm
      Sometimes I don't get any sleep I randomly wake up at like 3 in the morning and I can't go back to sleep till like 5.
      • animereina25
        animereina25Sunday, April 26, 2020 at 5:25 pm
        Same! I don't like when that happens, because sometimes I end up staying up for the whole night
      • nat05
        nat05Wednesday, January 8, 2020 at 9:47 am
        I am in fith grade and it starts at 7:55
        • 20020996
          20020996Sunday, January 5, 2020 at 2:41 pm
          I'm in 6'th grade, and it starts at 8:45
          • animereina25
            animereina25Monday, April 27, 2020 at 10:34 am
            I'm in sixth grade and I it used to start at 6 in the morning, but now since I a home schooled it is 10:00 in the morning XD
            • corgigurl124
              corgigurl124Sunday, April 26, 2020 at 10:07 am
              I'm in 6th grade and school starts at 9:00 XD
              • galaxy_fox12
                galaxy_fox12Monday, April 27, 2020 at 12:13 pm
                I’m in sixth grade too and my school starts at 7:50 😶
                • animereina25
                  animereina25Sunday, April 26, 2020 at 5:27 pm
                  I'm in sixth grade and school starts at 6:00... But nothing a that I am homeschooled, school starts at 10:00
                • btsfan1
                  btsfan1Monday, March 2, 2020 at 3:25 pm
                  I'm in 5th grade and it starts at 8:45
                  • wolfy9
                    wolfy9Sunday, January 26, 2020 at 5:12 pm
                    I'm in 3rd grade and it starts at 8:30
                  • lpsbrooklyn
                    lpsbrooklynFriday, January 3, 2020 at 8:26 pm
                    Ok I guess this is cool......? I mean idk how much I sleep maybe about 7 hours, on break like I sleep till 3 am and wake up four outs after! Lol!
                    • little_angel27
                      little_angel27Friday, January 3, 2020 at 4:39 am
                      Hey! even if you disagree with this article, use this as an excuse to sleep more!^_^
                      • rosset
                        rossetThursday, January 2, 2020 at 5:58 am
                        I'm already good at my studying
                        • meisboi
                          meisboiMonday, December 16, 2019 at 11:19 am
                          I usually get about 4 hours and make all a's
                          • fanofdantdm
                            fanofdantdmFriday, February 7, 2020 at 3:40 pm
                            Same I get all As and I got one B and didn't make principles honor roll
                          • avaorion
                            avaorionThursday, December 5, 2019 at 9:04 am
                            that was so intrasting
                            • cherry_blossom
                              cherry_blossomSunday, December 1, 2019 at 3:52 pm
                              is adults the same thing for guardians aka grandmas and grandpas
                              • animereina25
                                animereina25Monday, April 27, 2020 at 10:37 am
                                They say that adults do not need as much sleep... but grandmas and grandpas and even adults need their sleep...