Cramming for a test? Don’t do it, say UCLA researchers

Lack of sleep just makes it worse
August 21, 2012
sleeping_with_a_book

(Credit: Mark J. Sebastian/Wikimedia Commons)

Every high school kid has done it. Putting off studying for that midterm until the last minute, then pulling that caffeine-fueled all-nighter, trying to cram as much information into their heads as they can.

Now new research at UCLA says: don’t bother.

Sacrificing sleep for extra study time, whether it’s cramming for a test or plowing through a pile of homework, is actually counterproductive, they UCLA researchers report.

Regardless of how much a student generally studies each day, if that student sacrifices sleep time in order to study more than usual, he or she is likely to have more academic problems, not less, on the following day.

“These results are consistent with emerging research suggesting that sleep deprivation impedes learning,” says Andrew J. Fuligni, a UCLA professor of psychiatry,

Students generally learn best when they keep a consistent study schedule, said Fuligni. Yet, says Fuligni, “The biologically needed hours of sleep remain constant through their high school years, even as the average amount of sleep students get declines.”

Other research has shown that in 9th grade, the average adolescent sleeps for 7.6 hours per night, then declines to 7.3 hours in 10th grade, 7.0 hours in 11th grade, and 6.9 hours in 12th grade. “So kids start high school getting less sleep then they need, and this lack of sleep gets worse over the course of high school.”

The researchers found that study time became increasingly associated with more academic problems because longer study hours were increasingly associated with fewer hours of sleep. In turn, that predicted greater academic problems the following day.

Support for this study was provided by the Russell Sage Foundation.

References:

  • Cari Gillen-O’Neel, Virginia W. Huynh, Andrew J. Fuligni, To Study or to Sleep? The Academic Costs of Extra Studying at the Expense of Sleep, Child Development, 2012, in press