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How Nightly Sleep Holds the Key for Students’ Academic Success

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Update: July 19, 2023
4 min read
Sleep &Amp; Academic Success

In a pioneering effort, a multi-institutional research team embarked on a groundbreaking study to examine the relationship between nightly sleep duration and the end-of-semester grade point average (GPA) of first-year college students. By utilizing Fitbit sleep trackers, the researchers discovered that the average nightly sleep duration among students is 6.5 hours. However, their findings reveal that negative outcomes accumulate when students receive less than six hours of sleep per night. These noteworthy results, published in the February 13 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shed light on the crucial role of sleep in shaping academic performance among college freshmen.

In a groundbreaking study conducted by a multi-institutional team of researchers, the crucial relationship between nightly sleep duration and academic performance among first-year college students has been revealed. Using sleep trackers, the team discovered that students, on average, sleep only 6.5 hours a night, and negative outcomes accumulate when their sleep is consistently less than six hours. These findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shed light on the significance of sleep in the college experience.

College life is a time of transition and newfound freedom for young adults. It is a phase where students have the autonomy to determine how they allocate their time, but this freedom often comes with competing priorities such as academics, social events, and unfortunately, sleep.

Understanding the Importance of Sleep

Sleep serves as a foundational pillar for overall well-being and cognitive function. Recognizing its importance, sleep guidelines recommend that teenagers aim for 8 to 10 hours of quality sleep per night. However, the transition to college often disrupts established sleep patterns as students navigate newfound independence and confront a multitude of academic, social, and personal commitments. Consequently, many college students find themselves grappling with irregular and insufficient sleep, inadvertently jeopardizing their academic progress and overall quality of life.

Exploring the Relationship Between Sleep and GPA

Under the guidance of David Creswell, the esteemed William S. Dietrich II Professor in Psychology and Neuroscience at the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the research team embarked on an ambitious journey to explore the intricate relationship between sleep duration and GPA among college students. Building upon compelling evidence from animal studies, which highlight the role of sleep in memory consolidation and learning, the researchers sought to investigate whether inadequate or interrupted sleep could hinder academic learning and achievement within the realm of human education.


To unravel the mysteries surrounding the sleep-GPA nexus, the study encompassed a diverse sample of over 600 first-year students across five distinct studies conducted at three prestigious universities. Leveraging the advanced capabilities of sleep trackers, participants meticulously monitored and recorded their sleep patterns, enabling the researchers to obtain precise and comprehensive sleep data for analysis. This meticulous approach laid the foundation for robust and reliable findings regarding the impact of sleep duration on academic performance.


The study’s findings not only confirmed prevailing concerns about college students’ insufficient sleep but also uncovered the profound consequences it holds for their academic outcomes. Remarkably, the research unveiled the disconcerting reality that students, on average, obtain a mere 6.5 hours of sleep per night, falling significantly short of the recommended sleep duration. Even more alarming, the study identified a clear and pronounced decline in academic performance among students consistently receiving less than six hours of sleep. Intriguingly, for each hour of sleep lost, there was a corresponding 0.07 decrease in end-of-term GPA, painting a vivid picture of the accumulating negative effects of sleep deprivation on students’ overall academic success.

The Impact of Sleep Debt

One of the study’s lead researchers, David Creswell, emphasized the dire consequences of accumulating sleep debt among college students. Falling below the critical threshold of six hours of sleep per night results in severe impairments to students’ health, cognitive abilities, and study habits, collectively compromising their overall academic performance. What’s more, disconcerting is that despite the researchers’ best efforts to mitigate these effects, the study unequivocally demonstrated the persistent nature of sleep deprivation’s negative impact. It appears that sleep deprivation exacts its toll on students’ ability to learn and thrive academically, persisting throughout the semester and beyond.

Controlling for Factors

To ensure the validity of the findings, the study controlled for various factors, including past academic performance, daytime napping, race, gender, and first-generation status. Some studies also accounted for total academic course load. Interestingly, none of these factors altered the overall impact of nightly sleep on GPA, reinforcing the importance of prioritizing sleep.

Challenging Prevailing Beliefs

The study challenges the prevailing belief among college students that sacrificing sleep in favor of studying or socializing has no significant consequences. It underscores the potential costs of neglecting nightly sleep and emphasizes the value of prioritizing sleep for optimal learning and achievement in college.

Implications and Recommendations

Based on these findings, it is crucial for educational institutions to implement structured programs and interventions that prioritize and encourage undergraduate students to focus on their sleep. By fostering a culture that recognizes the importance of sleep, colleges can equip students with the necessary tools to optimize their learning potential and academic success.


The groundbreaking study highlights the undeniable impact of nightly sleep duration on first-year college students’ end-of-semester GPA. It provides valuable insights into the relationship between sleep and academic performance, urging students, educators, and institutions to prioritize sleep as a key component of overall well-being and success in the college years.

By acknowledging the importance of sleep and implementing strategies to support healthy sleep habits, colleges can empower students to thrive academically, ultimately shaping a generation of well-rested and successful individuals.


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