Holidays are usually filled with less-structured days and nights, allowing opportunities for staying up late, sleeping in the next morning and even daytime naps, if desired. A return to term time brings structured days, classes, activities and tasks that require alertness, intense, sustained focus and effective memory functions. It can be difficult for students to adjust sleep patterns after holidays in order to be sufficiently alert during the day and able to meet increased academic requirements. Research that examined the impact of sleep upon academic performance provides positive news for students as this research indicates the possibility of sleep-enhanced academic performance.
Busy daily schedules, greater workloads and increased exposure to artificial light (much of it emanating from television and computer screens) delay the onset of sleep and reduce nighttime sleep by at least an hour for most students. A greater sleep loss is recorded for adolescents. Avi Sadeh of Tel Aviv University has identified that the impact of this accumulated sleep loss is equivalent to the loss of two years of cognitive development and maturation. Paul Suratt’s research at the University of Virginia has likened the impact of sleep disturbance on intelligence and academic performance as being equivalent to exposure to lead. This is grim news; however it is offset by the encouraging news about the benefits to students who increase the amount of sleep they have each night.
Sleep is needed for the prefrontal cortex to operate critical executive neural functions required for attending, goal execution, impulse control and learning; the hippocampus depends upon sleep to enable it to encode and store memories. Procedural memory is particularly sensitive to sleep deprivation and more sleep greatly improves memory of vocabulary. There is now much data available to support the importance of sleep in boosting learning and improving academic performance.
Kyla Wahlstrom’s large study at the University of Minnesota confirmed Mary Carskadon’s earlier sleep research, conducted at Brown University. They both found that a relatively small increase in sleep significantly improved students’ academic performance. With a combined sample of ten thousand secondary school students, only forty-five minutes additional sleep per night separated the students with the highest, from students with the lowest academic results. There were clear delineations in the amount of sleep between the students who received predominantly As, Bs, Cs and Ds, forming a sliding time scale between the students who had the most, through to those who experienced the least amount of sleep. Oskar Jenni’s research in Zurich found that fifteen minutes additional sleep made the difference between one academic result and the next, higher level. It is worth having more sleep to enhance academic performance.
© Michele Juratowitch