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Does this sound familiar?  It is the night before a big test.  You feel like the only way you can get the grade you want is to stay up and take in as much information as possible in a caffeine-fueled cram session.  The idea that we can do better on tests and quizzes by skipping sleep in order to study is such an accepted idea in our culture that it is nearly a cliché.  Some might say you haven’t fully experienced college until you have pulled your first all-nighter.  But new research may give us all a good reason to make this practice obsolete.

The study, which was published in a recent edition of the journal Child Development, found that staying up to study can actually hurt rather than help your performance on tests and quizzes taken the next day.  Sleep deprivation, according to the study findings, may actually lead to lower test scores and degraded overall academic performance.

The research team, based at UCLA, asked more than 500 local high school students in grades 10th and 12th to keep a diary for 14 days.  Each participant was asked to record how long they studied each day, how much sleep they got each night, and to report any problems they experienced with comprehension in class each day.  Additionally, each student recorded the grades they received on tests, homework assignments, and quizzes completed during the study period.  Surprisingly, the data showed that the more a student studied on a particular day, the worse they performed in school the next day.  These results that don’t seem to make any sense until you factor in a third variable.  In most cases, more time spent studying meant less sleep.

The study was undertaken to get a clearer picture of why students who get more sleep get better grades, a finding supported by previous research.  The research team want to get a more concise picture of how sleep impacts academic performance at a more micro level.  By tracking study, sleep, and performance on a daily basis, the team was able to more closely identify how sleep can impact grades.

The bottom line is that cramming or pulling all-nighters in an effort to boost performance on tests and assignments actually has the opposite effect.  As students in high school and college head back to class, understanding how important sleep is to their success could make the difference between getting good grades or missing the grade.  While it will be difficult for one study to completely change the widely accepted idea that skipping sleep to study is the right thing to do, the findings do underscore other recent findings about the importance of sleep to our overall health and wellbeing.

Sleep is not something we can skip without consequences and the sooner our high school and college students learn this, the better equipped they will be to be successful in school and later on in life.


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