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How a good night’s sleep can lead to more success

Hundreds of articles from dozens of publications say academic success is linked to a good night’s sleep.
Hundreds of articles from dozens of publications say academic success is linked to a good night’s sleep.

By Zachary Garai

For decades, scientists, journalists, and educators have been conducting studies on student sleep habits and the effects of sleep deprivation. These studies have all had one thing in common – kids need sleep. Without eight or nine hours of sleep, students are more prone to depression, their grades plummet, they are more moody and reactive, and are always fatigued.

Sleep has an enormous effect on academic performance, as is illustrated in a New York Times article by Jessica Lahey.

“When Edina, Minnesota, shifted its high school start time from 7:25 a.m. to 8:30, the district reported that students were getting more sleep with fewer sleep disturbances, they reported fewer episodes of depressive feelings, and on the whole received better grades. Most shockingly, the SAT scores of Edina’s top students rose from a pre-time shift average of 683 math/605 verbal to 739 math/761 verbal one year later.”

In other words, the SAT scores increased by 8 percent for math and 26 percent for the verbal section of the test. A score increase of this magnitude proves the necessity of sleep for students.

In a survey of more than 200 students from Brentwood’s Paul Revere Middle School, representing eight classes, it was found that 40 percent of those surveyed fall asleep between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. at night.

In the morning, 45 percent of students reported waking up between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. In total, 60 percent of the school’s participating population sleep for seven to nine hours per school night – the amount of sleep recommended by most, if not all, studies.

This contradicts the national average of one in 10 teenagers getting that much sleep per night.

Despite the amount of sleep Revere students get, many still feel as if they need more. According to a recent poll, two thirds of participating students would want school to start and end 40 minutes later.

One eighth grader said she feels that “kids need more sleep so when they wake up they are happy and ready to learn. It’s hard for us to go to sleep at an early time.”

Students surveyed nearly unanimously felt that sleep is directly related to academic performance.

A seventh grader said he feels that sleep is important.

“I believe sleep has a huge effect [on academic performance] because if I am tired during class, it is a lot harder for me to concentrate on school.”

However, there were a few students that felt otherwise. Another seventh grader said she thinks that “sleep is important, but if you focus on what you are doing it doesn’t matter how much sleep you got.”

Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss wrote about the effect sleep has on students’ emotional well-being.

“If it was just a matter of early-morning fogginess this wouldn’t be a big deal, but sleep deprivation in teens has been linked to lower levels of Human Growth Hormone, which is integral to a teenager’s physical growth, brain development, and maturation of their immune system, as well as higher rates of anxiety disorders and depression. A 2010 study in the journal Sleep found that teenagers who go to bed after midnight are 24 percent more likely to suffer from depression and 20 percent more likely to consider harming themselves than those who go to bed before 10 p.m.”

Sleep is of great importance to the emotional state of students and is directly related to depression, along with other socio-emotional issues. If a student sleeps more, not only will they perform at a higher level academically, but they will also be happier in general.

An online article from Stanford University talks about a fundamental aspect of sleep deprivation.

“Each of us has a specific daily sleep requirement. The average sleep requirement for college students is well over eight hours, and the majority of students would fall within the range of this value plus or minus one hour. If this amount is not obtained, a sleep debt is created. All lost sleep accumulates progressively as a larger and larger sleep indebtedness. Furthermore, your sleep debt does not go away or spontaneously decrease. The only way to reduce your individual sleep debt is by obtaining extra sleep over and above your daily requirement.”

Although this is about college students, it is applicable for all students. When a student does not sleep enough, the sleep deprivation and sleep debt cyc­le continues at an exponential rate.

The importance of sleep in modern society is not diminishing – it may even be more important.

Hundreds of articles from dozens of publications have described just how critical a good night’s sleep is to success.

According to the University of Michigan, “The amount of sleep that a college student gets is one of the strongest predictors of academic success. Sleep plays a key role in helping students fix and consolidate memories, plus prevent decay of memories. Without sleep, people work harder and but don’t do as well.”

Chronic lack of sleep lowers cognitive abilities, and does so quickly with each hour of sleep lost. Although staying up late to study for a test the next day might make you think you know the material better, if you go to bed instead you will most likely get a higher score on that exam.

A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) of high school student found data provides less-than-encouraging results. According to their findings, 28 percent of participating students fall asleep in class at least once a week, and one fifth fell asleep while doing homework. The study also found that more sleep means higher grades, lower dropout rates, and higher attendance for students.

A recent study from the New York Times addressed the age old dilemma – sleep or study. It was found that falling asleep sooner leads to the retention of more information, which is critical to performance on tests that students take all too often.

In another survey of Paul Revere’s students, it was found that 64 percent prefer to sleep, as opposed to cramming in study time late at night.

Many students feel that sleep helps them focus on the test, and that their memory of facts and data is better after a good night’s sleep. However, of the 36 percent that prefer to study late into the night (and sometimes morning), a few cited the importance of time management.

Students aren’t the only ones who suffer from a lack of sleep. Many students feel as if teachers, like themselves, need time to rest.

A sixth grader observed the effects of a lack of sleep in teachers.

“I think it has a small effect on teachers because I notice they drink coffee and don’t even say a word in homeroom.”

During the school day’s early hours, teachers across the campus suffer from a caffeine epidemic, as they try to wake themselves up from the morning grogginess most people undergo. After 200 papers to grade, a long commute characterized by typical Los Angeles traffic, and personal challenges, educators have difficulty getting the recommended amount of sleep.

The early-morning reluctance to get out of bed and start a new day does not only apply to students and teachers.

At some point in their life, everyone suffers from this common yet, at times, debilitating condition. Coffee becomes the key to surviving the early hours, and getting through the work day.

For people who suffer from a chronic lack of sleep, productivity quickly plummets. In 2008, a study by Sleep in America found that some 29 percent of participants reported “falling asleep or becoming very sleepy” in the past month.

In addition, 12 percent were late to work in that month due to grogginess and sleepiness.

A survey by the National Sleep Foundation found that an average of at least seven hours 18 minutes of sleep is necessary for optimal performance the following day.

Another study of medical professionals found that “When on-call residents work overnight, they have twice as many attention failures, commit 36 percent more serious medical errors and report 300 percent more medical errors that lead to death than those who work a 16-hour shift.”

Hundreds of sources, from both raw data and self reported information, massive nation-wide surveys to school polls, all show that there is a direct correlation between sleep and performance.

By simply increasing the amount of time you sleep, you can greatly increase your working capabilities by sometimes over 300 percent.

Although Americans frequently skip sleep for more career-related issues, that sleep could actually – easily – improve productivity and quality of work. Whether you are a student or a teacher, a CEO or a business owner, the data suggests that a little more sleep can only help you.

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