Lack of Sleep Is Associated With Lower GPA in College Students

In a multi-institutional study, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University found that for every hour that was lost of nightly sleep, there was an average reduction of 0.07 in end-of-term grade point average (GPA) for first-year college students. The work was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Previous studies have established that sleep (total amount and regularity) is an important predictor for overall health and many guidelines have advised teenagers get 8-10 of sleep each night, many college students are still falling short and experiencing irregular sleeping patterns.

David Creswell, PhD, the William S. Dietrich II Professor in Psychology and Neuroscience at the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, remarked in a recent press release that: “Animal studies have shown how critical sleep is for learning and memory. Here we show how this work translates to humans. The less nightly sleep a first-year college student gets at the beginning of the school term predicts lower GPA at the end of the term, some five to nine weeks later. Lack of sleep may be hurting students’ ability to learn in their college classrooms.”

“Given the important role sleep plays in learning and memory,” Dr. Creswell and his team of researchers wrote, “here we extend this work to evaluate whether nightly sleep duration predicts change in end-of-semester GPA.”

The team evaluated more than 600 students who wore monitoring devices that recorded their nightly sleeping patterns. On average, students were sleeping 6.5 hours every night, lower than the recommended amount for individuals of their age. To the researchers surprise, though, they had found that students who were getting <6 hours of sleep each night had “pronounced declines” in their academic performance.

“Once you start dipping below six hours, you are starting to accumulate massive sleep debt that can impair a student’s health and study habits, compromising the whole system,” Dr. Creswell stated, “Most surprising to me was that no matter what we did to make the effect go away, it persisted.”

Furthermore, even when controlling for factors such as past academic performance, daytime napping, race, and gender, none of these factors affected the impact that regular, sufficient nightly sleep had on students’ GPA.

The study, according to Dr. Creswell, “suggests that there are potentially real costs to reducing your nightly sleep on your ability to learn and achieve in college. There’s real value in budgeting for the importance of nightly sleep.”