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Straight A's, no Zzzzzzz

Nov. 10, 2006

Aaron Turney/Lariat staff
A recent study at Stanford University revealed a connection between the amount of sleep students get each night to their GPAs. The research confirmed that students who are willing to sacrifice an hour of sleep for an extra hour to study have higher GPAs than those who are not willing.


Sleep. Who has time for it?

It's recommended that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep a day. The average college student sleeps somewhere in the range of five to seven hours a day, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Some feel a sufficient amount of sleep obtained per night is detrimental to daily functioning, while others feel sleep is overrated and would rather give up those hours of sleep to study.

Matthew Stolzar, a Stanford University graduate, conducted a study regarding the use college students made of their time and how productive they were as a result.

"Sleep is very interesting from the economist's point of view because it has a cost in that time spent sleeping that cannot be used to generate wealth in the labor market," Stolzar said. "But at the same time, sleep can improve one's productivity, and thus potentially allow them to generate higher wealth at a later time."

Stolzar analyzed 81 Stanford undergraduate students over the course of one week and examined their daily activities every hour.

"Sleep, like any good or service, is decided by most individuals on an incentive basis," Stolzar said. "I wanted to analyze what incentives caused college students to get more or less sleep."

Stolzar found the notion that sleep increases productivity was false when applied to college students. Students with higher GPAs were more apt to sacrifice sleep time for study time than those who were drawn to leisure activities.

"I think there are two explanations for this," Stolzar said. "The first is that some students are more willing to sacrifice health for grades, and thus on average are more willing to give up an hour of sleep for an extra hour of studying than others. My other explanation is that some students function better on low amounts of sleep than others, and this provides them with the academic advantage of having more available time to study."

Dr. Charles Weaver, professor of neuroscience and psychology, said students who get better grades probably need less sleep to begin with.

"The fact that students with higher GPAs sleep less hours doesn't surprise me at all," Weaver said. "It doesn't mean that all you have to do to get good grades is sleep less; it's what you do with those extra hours."

Weaver said that different factors must be considered when looking at studies such as the one conducted by Stolzar.

"The type of research done in this study is correlational research," Weaver said. "You always have to be careful when looking at correlational research because several factors come into play that affect your results. In this case, how you displace your study hours is one of them."

The correlation between sleep and grades is far greater than many would think. Many college students study until the wee hours of the morning and wonder why they are not producing satisfactory academic results.

"Students don't get enough sleep and then try to make up for it by sleeping until noon on Saturdays, or catch naps during the day," Weaver said.

Naps take away from nightly sleep, causing people to go to bed late night after night. "What you should do is wake up at the same time of day regardless of when you fall asleep," Weaver said. "What if you go to sleep at 6 a.m.? Should you still get up at 8? Yes."

Weaver said that although this will cause people to be tired the next day, it will make it possible to be able to sleep properly the following night.

Stolzar found in his study that choice of major also has an effect on GPA. The average GPA for undergraduate Stanford students looking to obtain a Bachelors of Science degree was a 3.52 as opposed to those looking to obtain a Bachelors of Arts degree, who averaged a 3.63. Stolzar also found students looking to obtain a science degree studied about 6.76 hours a day, and those looking to obtain a liberal arts degree studied 6.67 hours a day.

Although these numbers are close in range, it does suggest that hours spent studying has a smaller effect on liberal arts majors than they do on science majors.

In a poll conducted by the Lariat of 75 psychology majors at Baylor, the average amount of time spent studying was about five hours and the average amount of sleep was seven hours daily.

In his study, Stolzar gave subjects nine choices of time uses and instructed them to pick the one activity that most reflected how they spent each hour of the day.

Those nine time uses included sleep, class, studying/homework and jobs. The option of "other" was available and subjects who reported this described the time use in their own words

Paola Revuelta, a junior from The Woodlands, said she usually gets six hours of sleep and studies for about seven hours daily, including the weekends.

"I have pulled all-nighters before, but that is mainly because of procrastination," Revuelta said. "I wish there was more time in the day so I could get all that I need to get done and still feel rested."

Weaver said sleep helps students consolidate information we have previously learned.

"One of the best things you can do after studying is sleep. It seems to allow memories of the day become more permanent," Weaver said. "You're better off sleeping after midnight, and then waking up at eight for your 9 a.m. exam. "