Learn More, Learn Faster: The Importance of Sleep for College Students

Learn More, Learn Faster: The Importance of Sleep for College Students


We’ve long known that sleep is necessary for sound mental and physical performance. Not getting enough sleep often results in grogginess, sleepiness throughout the day, and a noticeably reduced ability to focus – not ideal for those of you fitting in studies between work, family, and hobbies. In recent years there have been several studies that have explored the connection between sleep and performance. How important is sleep for college students—even online students who can study at their own pace? Let’s find out.

Behold! The Power of the Power Nap

A 2017 study shows that better sleep results in a more efficient use of memory. Professor Gareth Gaskell of the Department of Psychology at the University of York argued that “… sleep has a protective effect on memory and facilitates the adaptive updating of memories.” In the study, two groups were made to look at words that appeared on a computer screen and asked to remember where they appeared. After one of the groups had a 90-minute nap, further testing revealed that they could guess where the words were better than the group that didn’t get to sleep. Never underestimate the benefits of the power nap!

10 Extra Minutes of Sleep Can Make A Difference

The findings of another study seem to agree with these developments. In Hong Kong, high schools experimented with starting classes 15 minutes later than usual, allowing teen students to sleep a little longer before starting their day. The results were overwhelmingly positive: students were late to school less and even exhibited better focus. Yun Kwok Wing of the Chinese University of Hong Kong told Reuters Health that. “…even a modest delay could lead to a number of positive outcomes.” Five months into the schedule change, teachers reported that their teen students had fewer behavioral issues, less dozing off during classes, less tardiness, and overall better concentration. And these are just from teens getting around 10 minutes more sleep than usual.

Sleep for College Students: Increase Selective Attention

Back in the U.S., research confirms that sleep deprivation is detrimental to “selective attention” – the ability to keep focus as other things occur around you at the same time. Live Science reported that a study from the Willamette University observed the underlying mechanisms of a well-known side-effect of not getting enough sleep: compromised focus. Researchers monitored the brain activity of study participants as they were made to listen to two different stories simultaneously, with each one playing in a different ear. Not surprisingly, the sleep-deprived participants struggled to follow the instruction to pay attention to just one story. Meanwhile, the brain signals of the participants who slept well reflected their ability to focus on one story while suppressing the other.

What the Future Holds

Based on all the new data exploring the connection of sleep and academic ability, there’s no doubt on the importance of sleep for college students. The effects of sleep deprivation on college students can likely decrease cognitive performance and impair overall mental health. As recognition of the effect sleep has on performance—both at school and work—increases, look for ever growing recommendations on more effective methods to improve areas like concentration and focus.

Looking for more insights on how to be a better student? Check out our: Quiz: What is Your Ideal Study Space? The more you understand what makes you a better student, the easier it will be for you to tackle your academics to the very best of your abilities!


N. Mitchell is an online blogger with more than six years experience in education.