By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor
Cramming was the secret to my school success, the bread and butter of my academic career, one of the few things I did really well from a young age. I would study and do my homework, of course, but the lion’s share of my effort was always the night before. Was sleep sacrificed? Oh, yes. But I was a firm believer in the power of sleep banking: I always made up for my lost zzz’s on the weekends.
So there's a bit of payback in the news released by my alma mater this week: research findings that show my study methods were total hooey based on rationalization, not reason. In fact, if I’m anything like the kids in a new study called “To Study or to Sleep? The Academic Costs of Extra Studying at the Expense of Sleep” by UCLA researchers (published in Child Development), then my last minute, stay-up-all-night approach to studying probably created more academic problems than it solved.
For the study, researchers asked 9th, 10th, and 12th graders to complete daily diaries for two weeks documenting their study time, sleep time, and academic functioning, and the results were clear: sacrificing sleep for study time takes a toll on learning and academic performance.
But if you’re raising a hard-working, college-bound student, it can be hard to get her to close the books and go to sleep. (Just ask my mom.) The struggle over sleep goes on in households across America – and a new school year is the perfect time to instill new habits. So here’s a little wisdom to back you up next time you want your tween or teen to turn out the lights (all quotes are from the UCLA study).
Study time is likely controlling your child’s sleep time
“Study time is one of the most signiﬁcant determinants of high school students’ sleep time, more so than time spent with friends or family or time spent using media.” Sharing this info may backfire when you’re trying to limit screen time, but I’ll bet this nugget sticks with your child.
Staying up to study may be hurting, not helping
“Thus, our results suggest that regardless of whether or not students had a test, study time became increasingly associated with academic problems such that, by 10th grade, nights with longer than average study times tended to be followed by days with more academic problems.”
The 8 hour a night myth (Hint: 8 hours isn't enough)
“In high school, sacriﬁcing sleep to study may be especially problematic because, in general, high school age adolescents are chronically sleep deprived… the vast majority of high school students (62%) get insufﬁcient sleep… In 9th grade, the average adolescent sleeps for 7.6 hr per night, and this time decreases to 7.3 hr in 10th grade, 7.0 hr in 11th grade, and 6.9 hr in 12th grade” So it’s building over time – and wreaking havoc on your child’s learning abilities. Part of the problem is the amount of sleep kids need is constantly misstated (check out the chart below). According to the National Sleep Foundation, 8 hours may not even be enough for adults – and it’s definitely not enough for a school-aged child.
As for my sleep banking theory, the researchers make it clear that it doesn't work:, “other studies have demonstrated that even beyond total amounts of sleep, irregular sleep schedules are associated with lower academic performance.”
Time management to the rescue
So what’s the answer? If there are too many demands on your high schoolers' time, don’t let it affect their sleep, researchers say. Instead, encourage your child find ways to use school time more effectively, watch less TV, and take a hard look at extracurriculars.
And when it comes to studying for a test, students should do a consistent, manageable amount of studying every night and then go to bed at a reasonable hour. “In and of itself, this is a generally effective study strategy—experimental research has demonstrated that spacing study time evenly across a number of days results in better academic performance than studying in one massed session, even if the total amount of study time is the same.”
In other words: no cramming!