Goodnight Moon: Better sleep tied to better grades

helenjenne

Credit: Wolff
Credit: Wolff

Half of students with GPAs of 3.75 or higher get between four and five hours of sleep per night, according to a survey conducted by The Pioneer.

It is important to note that the sample size of this survey was relatively small, just barely reaching 50 people, but these results are still very surprising.

“That’s not enough sleep,” said Dr. Richard Simon, sleep disorders expert from the Kathryn Severyns Dement Sleep Disorders Center in Walla Walla.

If you take normal people and deprive them of sleep to the point where they are only getting five to six hours per night, according to Simon, they will perform one to two standard deviations below where they would have performed with a full night’s sleep. What does this mean?

“These people may be performing well with very little sleep because there are intrinsic differences in human brains,” Simon said.

Inherent intelligence is a factor that affects GPA, along with the difficulty of classes. However, Simon wonders if the students in the 3.75 or higher range might have gotten an even higher GPA if they had slept between six and eight hours a night.

“Your best bet is to try to get six to eight hours of sleep every night,” Simon said.

To be able to do this, however, you need to study efficiently.

It’s best, according to Simon, to break up studying into 20-30 minute blocks with a goal of a specific concept that you want to grasp. Then, take a short break, and continue.

Sometimes during the study breaks, taking a 10-15 minute nap can help. The phrase “sleep on it” is true: sleep helps consolidate memory. So after exposing yourself to new information, sleep can help you understand it.

Simon promotes napping, and says that there are two possible reasons for napping: To pay off sleep debt and to improve performance in the short run. To pay off sleep debt, nap as long as you want. But if you are napping to improve performance in the short run, Simon recommends drinking one or two cups of coffee, and then taking a twenty-minute nap. When you wake up, the caffeine will have started to kick in.

“That will acutely improve performance,” Simon said. If you have a 1 p.m. test and are planning to study beforehand, this would be something to do at 11 a.m.

While short naps can help efficiency during the day, it’s important to get a full six to eight hours of sleep at night. When it comes to all-nighters, Simon simply said: “Don’t do it.”

“Your study efficiency just declines like you wouldn’t believe,” Simon said. If you are working on a problem, you will think of an ineffective solution, and won’t be able to think of different solutions.

Simon emphasizes to put sleep first and studying second. It’s also important to not only get enough hours of sleep, but to wake up at similar times each morning.

The suprachiasmatic nucleus in the hypothalamus, in other words your biological clock, increases the alertness of your brain for 16 hours of the day, and then decreases the alertness for the remaining eight hours. Ideally, you will be sleeping when your clock is off, and awake when your clock is on. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way.

If you were left alone to sleep whenever you want, and you wake up naturally at 10 a.m. every morning, your biological clock probably isn’t shutting off until 2 a.m. So if this is the case for you, and your biological clock isn’t on when you’re sitting in your 8 a.m. class, you probably won’t be that alert.

“If you really are a night owl, don’t take morning classes,” Simon said. And if you do have a morning class, Simon recommends buying an artificial light box, and sitting in front of it for 45 minutes to an hour after waking up, which can train the brain to wake up earlier.

“[Biological clocks] are the only reason you guys can stay awake as late as you do,” Simon said. But it’s important to work with your biological clock and practice efficient studying to make sure you get enough sleep.