Want better grades? Get better sleep

October 1, 2019 11:00 am
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Many college students are given the advice of “a good night’s sleep” when aiming for a good grade on a test. But researchers at MIT have found that the consistency of quality sleep matters more for academic achievement than just one night of good sleep before the big test. The study included 100 students who wore fitness tracking bracelets (Fitbits) to track their activity for a semester. Although the study began as an investigation of the relationship between physical exercise and college grades, researchers Kana Okano, Jeffrey Grossman, and John Gabrieli found some surprising results regarding sleep.

Grossman failed to find a correlation between fitness and grades. But when looking at other activity recorded by the Fitbits, particularly sleep, the correlations were striking. There was a positive correlation between the average amount of students’ sleep and their grades on eleven quizzes, three midterms, and the final exam in Introduction to Solid-State Chemistry. The amount of sleep a student got the night before a test was unrelated to their test scores. What seemed to matter was the sleep they had during learning periods. The amount of sleep also needed to be consistent throughout the week in order to have an effect on grades. Moreover, Grossman observed a cutoff for bedtimes. Going to bed after 2am was associated with poorer exam results, regardless of the overall amount of sleep the student had.

Of course, correlation does not equal causation. But these results are an indication that sleep matters for college students. Further research can focus on gender differences; specifically, why women tend to have better sleep habits and better grades than men (another finding of the study). Sleep is necessary and restorative, so it makes sense that it would aid cognitive performance. However, consistency is key: college students should pay more attention to their sleep schedule and give themselves opportunities for higher quality sleep – in exchange for higher quality grades.

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This post was written by McKenzie Cline