The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Academic Performance

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Sleep is an important biological necessity that all people need to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It helps people work at an optimum level and is critical for brain functioning, helping with all the cognitive functions such as memory, learning, decision making, and critical thinking. This makes sleep extremely important for academic performance. However, research shows that not everyone is getting enough sleep to function properly, especially college students. Researchers state that sleep deprivation is one of the main reasons college students receive low academic scores aside from stress which contributes to sleep deprivation. The purpose of this research proposal is to examine what contributes to sleep deprivation and see how it then affects academic performance.

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Academic Performance

Sleep is a vital necessity for people to live a healthy lifestyle in which they can function well and think properly. It helps with memory consolidation, learning, decision-making, and critical thinking (Gilbert & Weaver, 2010). Therefore, sleep deprivation is necessary for keeping these cognitive functions at an optimal level for performance wherever the person may be, whether it be at work, home, or even school. Unfortunately, not everyone receives adequate amounts of sleep in order to function properly throughout the day. These poor performances as a result of poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation is especially evident among college students. Since college students have such busy work, school, and social schedules to keep up with, their sleep cycles become negatively affected by it. They tend to have irregular sleep-cycles depending on the day of the week and report dissatisfaction with sleep as a result of poor sleep quality (Gilbert & Weaver, 2010).

Causes of Sleep Deprivation

There are many causes as to why sleep deprivation occurs in college students. In a study done by Ahrberg and his colleagues (2012), they found that different modes of stress affect the circadian sleep rhythms of the students. OF these modes of stress, stress from work and school are the most prevalent. A working student can feel stress from going to school, then working to hard at their job, and then having to come home to do more schoolwork until the early hours of the day. Students who do not have a job may also feel the same stresses as working students if they spend too much time procrastinating and have to spend time working on schoolwork until the early morning as well. Ahrberg and his colleagues (2012) also state that as a result of sleeping this late, sleep deprivation acts as another stressor on the student.

More causes of sleep deprivation as stated by Tsai and Li (2004), are gender and grade differences. In Tsai and Li's study, they found that female students tend to receive lesser sleep with poorer sleep quality and more awakenings in the middle of the night compared to male students. The male students would receive more sleep with better quality. This is because women went to bed later but rose earlier. According to Tsai and Li (2004), younger students such as college freshmen also tended to sleep less than college seniors no matter what their gender. This may be because of fewer workloads and the more relaxed attitude of college seniors since they have their life more balanced out as opposed to the incoming freshmen that are just trying to figure things out. The college freshmen may feel more stress as they try to balance having a social life and keeping up with their academics at the same time. As a result, sleep deprivation can be caused by both gender differences and grade differences.

Sleep Deprivation and Academic Performance

Many studies in the past have shown that sleep deprivation does correlate with poor academic performance because of lower abilities in cognition as a result of poor sleep quality. In the study done by Gilbert and Weaver (2010), the two researchers found that sleep loss interferes with a student's academic, extracurricular and vocational choices. They also found that the amount of hours students sleep in a 24-hour period has greatly decreased over the years while sleep dissatisfaction has increased. Another study done by Medeiros and three other colleagues (2001), found a correlation between poor academic performances and sleep deprivation but in this study, they analyzed how irregular sleep cycles can be the result of different days of the week. For example, their participants tended to have prolonged sleep during the weekends because of their loss of sleep during the weekdays because of school (Medeiros et al., 2001). Since humans have the tendency to continue sleeping late as the result of their human circadian rhythm, sleep deprivation is further worsened (Medeiros et al., 2001). As stated before by Ahrberg and his colleagues (2012), stress can also worsen the desynchronization of circadian rhythms and make people moody and cause them to not be as alert as they should be. In a similar study done by Kelly, W. and two other colleagues (2001), they also found that sleep deprivation greatly affects a student's ability to perform well in their classes. This is evident through the students' GPA's. Kelly and colleagues reported that people who slept 9 hours or more in a 24-hour period had significantly higher GPA's than short sleepers who sleep 6 hours or less in a 24-hour period. These short sleepers also tended to show signs of anxiousness, were less creative, more neurotic, and more prone to hallucinate as well (Kelly, Kelly, & Clanton, 2001).


The purpose of this research is to examine what contributes to sleep deprivation and see how it then affects academic performance. Past research has shown the effects of stress, gender, and grade differences on sleep deprivation. It would also be interesting to see if there are other factors that worsen sleep deprivation. Hypothesis: Participants who are female, have high amounts of stress, and are college freshmen are more likely to experience more sleep deprivation and as a result perform poorly academically.



The data will be collected from undergraduate psychology students at the California State University of Long Beach. The expected students' ages would range between 18 and 23. Around 150 participants are expected to be selected through a cluster sampling procedure, where 75 participants would be males and 75 participants would be females. These students would be chosen in an introductory psychology class after taking a test. The participants would be asked to complete a survey regarding their sleep patterns, stress levels during the semester, pre-test, and post-test, and their academic performance such as GPA and how they perform in class.

Materials and Measures

Materials. Paper and pencils would be needed to distribute the surveys to the participants in the classroom. Measures. Demographics such as gender and grade level will be collected because past research has shown that females are more likely to become victims of poor sleep quality and sleep deprivation while it also depends on their grade level differences (Tsai & Li, 2004). It would also be interesting to see whether or not ethnicity correlates with sleep deprivation in any way and how it affects their academic performance. For this experiment, the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) will be used to measure the subjective sleep quality in participants (Ahrberg, Dresler, Niedermaier, Steiger, & Genzel, 2012). The 6-point Kunin's faces scale will also be used to measure stress in the participants, along with a survey of five questions regarding their thoughts on their academic performance in the class.


Before the day the survey will be taking place, the professor of the introduction to psychology class will be asked for permission to have the survey take place in their classroom after the students have completed one of the midterm exams for the class. After getting the professor's consent to work in his classroom, a schedule would be set for the day the survey will take place. On the day of the survey, one of the researchers for this study will enter the classroom to greet the students before their midterm exam and to inform them of the survey that will be taking place after the exam if the students choose to participate. The participants would be informed by the researcher that the results would be confidential and anonymous, and if he or she feels the need to leave at any time during the survey they may do so without feeling uncomfortable in any way and without receiving any penalties. The students would be asked to stay behind after they have completed their exams to complete the survey. Once a student has completed his or her midterm exam, they student would bring up their exam to the front of the classroom to hand their exam in. Then the researcher supervising that classroom would hand the student a survey for them to complete if they choose to. On the first page of the survey, the participant would be given a consent form to read and sign regarding the experiment. After reading and signing the consent forms, he or she would understand that the experiment is investigating what causes sleep deprivation and how sleep deprivation affects academic performance. In the survey the participant would be asked a total of 18 questions regarding their sleep patterns, stress levels during the semester, pre-test, and post-test, and their academic performance. The first section of the survey, which would be a PSQI, would be made up of 10 questions related to sleep habits over a one-month period and includes subscales assessing sleep latency, sleep duration, sleep disturbances, and daytime-dysfunction (Ahrberg, Dresler, Niedermaier, Steiger, & Genzel, 2012). This section should take about 5 minutes. The second section of the survey would consist of three of Kunin's faces scale to measure stress levels during the semester, pre-test, and post-test. This section should take about 1 minute. The final section of the survey would consist of five questions asking about the participant's academic performance. These questions would pertain to the participant's GPA, their ability to focus in class, how they work with other students in the class, their ability to stay awake in class, and their overall mood during class. After completing the survey, the participant will be thanked for participating in the study and will be given a cup of coffee or hot chocolate as a reward and to keep them awake in the rest of their classes, and they will finally be dismissed.


Ahrberg, K., Dresler, M., Niedermaier, S., Steiger, A., & Genzel, L. (2012). The interaction between sleep quality and academic performance. Journal of Psychiatric Research. Advance online publication.

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The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Academic Performance. (2019, Aug 08). Retrieved June 18, 2024 , from

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