College is on its way -- or already here -- and with it comes sleep deprivation. So here at HuffPost College we have started a new sleep challenge: The Freshman 8! To continue to motivate everyone I wanted to focus on how getting those eight hours can help your GPA.
Sure, it makes sense that the more you sleep the better your grades might be, but has anyone actually looked at this from a research perspective? You bet!
- Back in 2001 a group of researchers looked at the GPAs of college students who were: short sleepers (less than six hours); average sleepers (six to eight hours); and long sleepers (eight-plus hours) and ... the long sleepers had the highest GPAs.
- Then in 2007 researchers looked at what type of sleeper got better grades: A "morning person" or a "night owl." What they discovered: an extreme night owl would have an average GPA of about 2.5 and, as each person became more and more of an early bird, their GPAs increased all the way to a 3.5.
- This year, researchers discovered that nearly a third of college students surveyed at least one sleep disorder. These researchers found that students without sleep disorders had a higher GPA than those with sleep disorders. GPA scores lower than 2.00 were more likely to be those of students with at least one sleep disorder.
Which disorders? Here are a few:
-Insomnia -- the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep
-Obstructive Sleep Apnea -- in which someone stops breathing in their sleep which wakes them up without their being aware of being awake
-Phase Delay/ Circadian Rhythm Disorder -- a person goes to bed very late and wakes up very late.
-Restless Leg Syndrome -- a person gets a creepy/crawling feeling on their legs when they lie down.
I have written about sleeping -- or lack of -- in college before, but these results show just how important sleep really is. These studies also indicate that it is not just the quantity of sleep that is important but also the quality of your sleep.
So what can these and other studies tell us about sleep and GPA?
1. More than eight hours appears to be a magic number for a college student -- if you can get eight at home then you really should try to get eight in college.
2. Morning people may have an advantage. So if you are an early bird, consider taking your most challenging classes before 1 p.m.; while those night owls may do best having their most challenging classes from 3 p.m. on.
3. If you think that you may have ANY type of sleep disorder, contact your school's health center and ask them if you could be suffering from a sleep disorder. Don't wait!
So what can you do generally to ensure you get your rest and maintain your GPA? Here are a few tips and tricks:
- Manage your time: This is a no-brainer, but hard to do well. When homework, the social calendar, and sleep all call for attention, which goes first? How can you maximize all three?
- Set clear boundaries. Tell yourself you won't party past a certain time; keep to a regular sleep-wake schedule as best you can, even on the weekend. Don't use the 24-hour library. Keep a routine study session daily, say from 4 to 7 at night, and don't let social distractions get in the way that will later have you back in the books past midnight.
- Turn off your cell phone after a certain hour, say 11 p.m.
- Establish coping skills and stress-reduction practices. College comes with an enormous set of stresses and challenges. Strategies to help balance your stress will have a huge impact on your ability to get things done and, yes, get a good night's sleep.
- Don't forget to exercise. The freshmen 15 isn't just related to a higher intake of (usually buffet-style) food; most college students forgo regular exercise and sleep -- the double whammy for packing on the pounds.
- Notice your environment. College students get free passes for keeping their computers in their dorm rooms, but watch out for those bright screensavers. Before you put yourself to bed, put your computer to sleep.
- Manage your caffeine: Most people do not know that caffeine can stay in your system for up to 8 to 10 hours. And remember it's not just that cup of java or energy drink, caffeine comes from all kinds of places. So even if you fall asleep after that third Mountain Dew, the quality of the sleep you are getting is diminished.
Keep trying -- you will notice a difference. And once you get those eight hours, you will want to keep it up!
And with the weekend coming -- have fun, but try to keep up with the challenge and think ahead to Monday.
Next week: The effects of sleep deprivation on memory and athletic performance.
Take the Freshman 8 pledge, and participate on Facebook!
Follow Dr. Michael J. Breus on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thesleepdoctor