Nearly any high school student (particularly high achieving kids) will tell you that they have given up sleep to study or do schoolwork. Whether it’s putting the finishing touch on an important paper or cramming for a math test, schoolwork often gets pushed until the last minute. And while losing an hour or two of sleep may not seem like a big deal, a new study published in Child Development shows that kids who lose sleep to study often do worse the next day than they would have otherwise.
These findings may be surprising to teachers, parents, and students. While everyone knows that cramming is not the ideal method of learning material, most people believe that a studying for a few extra hours the night before a test is better than nothing. But they may be wrong.
Middle and high school-age kids typically need 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours of sleep each night. Getting enough sleep is important for many reasons, but one of the most pressing is sleep’s role in learning. Kids who get more REM sleep after learning new concepts retain more of the information–and sometimes even understand it better the next morning. But they have a hard time holding onto the information hours or days later if they are sleep deprived.
During my senior year in high school, I stayed up all night twice during finals week. The second night was the eve of my math final, which I needed to do well on to get even a C in the class. With a two-liter of Mountain Dew by my side, I stayed up all night studying for the test–and failed it the next day, before falling asleep with my head on my desk.
I learned my lesson from that experience, but for many people the connection between lack of sleep and poor learning is a hard one to draw. It’s also tough to make yourself go to bed when you have so much to do or are stressed about a test–but getting some shuteye may very well be the best thing you can do.
NPR gives some advice for teens and their parents to help high schoolers get enough quality sleep to function well at school:
1. Keep a regular sleep-wake schedule throughout the week.
2. Try to get 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours of sleep each night.
3. Keep a regular study schedule.
4. Minimize technology (such as computers and cell phones) in your sleeping area.
5. Eliminate caffeine from your diet, especially in the hours before bedtime.