Don’t give up on your dreams, keep sleeping!

by Nabeelah Samie

Ask yourself this question: as a university student, have I ever felt fully rested and ready to tackle the day’s lectures? Or is it a constant battle getting ready for those torturous 8am’s?

According to various studies, up to 70% of students feel they don’t obtain enough sleep (Lund, et al., 2010; Hershner & Chervin, 2014), in other words, they are sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation is defined as not obtaining an adequate amount of sleep to maintain adequate daytime alertness (Hershner & Chervin, 2014). You may be wondering what long term impacts this could have on students. As a student myself, I know I am!

A recent study looked at the relationship between sleep deprivation, grade-point average (GPA) and college (also known as university) graduation (Chen & Chen, 2019). The study was performed using longitudinal data obtained from the U.S. Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education (WNS) which included three waves of freshman data (2006-2010, 2007-2011 and 2008-2012) from 49 different institutions.

A survey was done on a random sample of first-year (also called freshman) students, and they were asked to categorize how often they felt sleep deprived. Now for the fun part: statistics, yay! Can you feel the sarcasm? I won’t bore you with the details, but the statistics included descriptive analysis and a logistic regression test.

The data in table 1 are the results of the logistic regression test done to determine the association between chronic sleep deprivation and graduation within 4 years. These results indicate that students who suffered from chronic sleep deprivation in their senior year are 40% less likely to graduate, and 25% less likely to graduate if they suffered from it during both their freshman and senior years. There is no association between chronic sleep deprivation during the freshman year only and the likelihood of graduating.

Table 1 Logistic regression results describing the relationship between chronic sleep deprivation and graduation within 4 years. Adapted from Chen & Chen, 2019.

In summary, the main findings of this paper were that chronic sleep deprivation resulted in a lower GPA, the odds of graduating college were lower with chronic sleep deprivation, especially if it occurred during the final year of study, and the results did not vary when including covariates such as student’s health behaviours. What this indicates is that sleep deprivation is a predictor of academic achievement amongst students. Having any second thoughts about constantly staying up too late?

While the authors of this paper firmly believe their results are valuable, it is worthwhile to mention the limitations they faced. The first limitation being that the WNS is not a national representative dataset so the results cannot be generalized to the U.S., however, it is informative of how a general population of students are affected by sleep deprivation. The second limitation is that chronic sleep deprivation data was only obtained twice in the four-year period. Thirdly, the impact of sleep deprivation may be overestimated when using a 4-year graduation period as students may end up graduating in the 5th or 6th year. The final limitation is that the impact of smartphones and social media on students might be less when the study data was collected compared to now, but it was shown that there was a prevalence of social media use when WNS started (Rideout, et al., 2010).

In my opinion, more factors can contribute to a student’s GPA and the likelihood of graduating, such as poor socio-economic factors, that was not covered in this paper. However, it is important to maintain adequate sleep not only to excel at university but for a healthy lifestyle too. In conclusion, there are much more studies that are still required to be done concerning a students’ sleep health and promoting better health can only improve their educational outcomes.


Chen, W.-L. & Chen, J.-H., 2019. Consequences of Inadequate Sleep During the College Years: Sleep Deprivation, Grade Point Average, and College Graduation. Preventive Medicine, Volume 124, pp. 23-28.

Hershner, S. D. & Chervin, R. D., 2014. Causes and consequences of sleepiness among college students. Nature and Science of Sleep, Volume 6, pp. 73-84.

Lund, H. G., Reider, B. D., Whiting, A. B. & Prichard, J. R., 2010. Sleep Patterns and Predictors of Disturbed Sleep in a Large Population of College Students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 46(2), pp. 124-132.

Rideout, V. J., Foehr, U. G. & Roberts, D. F., 2010. Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds. Menlo Park, California: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.


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