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Can sleep improve academic performance?

Recently researchers studied whether sleep improves academic performance, what time to go to bed, and consistency of sleep.

It is known that good sleep is associated with improvements in cognitive function. In the recent study, conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), sleep patterns were measured using activity trackers. The results were published in the journal Science of Learning.

One hundred students from the MIT chemistry class received Fitbits for an entire semester, which are devices worn on the hand and provide information about a person’s activities. These bracelets allowed researchers to measure the duration and quality of sleep by a combination of movements and heart-rate during bed-time.

To assess performance results, during the semester the students completed 11 quizzes, three midterms, and one final exam.

The study revealed that the average amount of sleep was directly related to student grades. Students with a greater amount and quality of sleep had higher marks.

“Of course, we knew already that more sleep would be beneficial to classroom performance, from a number of previous studies that relied on subjective measures like self-report surveys,” said professor Jeffrey Grossman. “But in this study the benefits of sleep are correlated to performance in the context of a real-life college course, and driven by large accounts of objective data collection.”

Apart from the expected findings, there were some surprising results. In particular, individuals who went to bed before 2am performed better on their tests, while students who fell asleep after 2am ended up with lower marks, regardless of total hours of sleep. The researchers concluded that not only quantity but also the quality of sleep improves academic performance.

In addition, students who had a sufficient night sleep just one night before the tests showed no improvement in their scores compared to the students who had many good nights in a row. “The night before does not matter,” said Grossman. “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.”

Another interesting finding was the relationship between sport and grades. One-fourth of participants who wore the Fitbits were enrolled in a special intense fitness class in MIT’s Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation. The researchers expected to see an improvement in academic performance in this group. However, students without physical activity performed at the same level as participants with fitness classes. The lead investigator supposed that the time between physical activity and the classes was too long to show an impact.

Although, the study showed that sleep improves academic performance, further studies are needed to understand the results more deeply..


Written by Anna Otvodenko



Okano, K., Kaczmarzyk, J., Dave, N., Gabrieli, J. and Grossman, J. (2019). Sleep quality, duration, and consistency are associated with better academic performance in college students. npj Science of Learning, 4(1).

EurekAlert!. (2019). Study: Better sleep habits lead to better college grades. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Oct. 2019].

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay



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