Dec. 1, 2007 With end-of-semester finals looming, here's an exam question: Will pulling an all-nighter actually help you score well?
To the dismay of college students everywhere, the correct answer is "no."
Pamela Thacher, associate professor of psychology at St. Lawrence University (Canton, N.Y.), studied the sleeping patterns and transcripts of 111 students to see the correlation between sleep and their grade-point averages.
"You can't do your best work when you're sleep-deprived," Thacher says of her findings, which were that two-thirds of the students reported that they had pulled at least one all-nighter during a semester and that those who did it regularly had lower GPAs. Short-term side effects of sleep deprivation include delayed reactions and tendencies to make mistakes.
The study also examined whether most students who pulled all-nighters did so due to procrastination. According to Thacher, that wasn't the case for most students. "The data indicate that procrastination is not associated with all-nighters, although both practices significantly correlated with lower GPAs," she says.
A small proportion of those in the study indicated that they use all-nighters regularly and maintain high GPAs, but Thacher notes that the findings show that won't be the case for most students.
Many students believe that it's a "rite of passage" to stay up all night during college and that "it's kind of fun," Thacher says. But, she adds, "Pulling all-nighters compromises your sleep overall " and makes it difficult to reach full academic potential. Short-term side effects of sleep deprivation include delayed reactions and tendencies to make mistakes.
In general, Thacher says, college students' sleep is inadequate, irregular and of poor quality, and all result in worsened academic performance. Over-use and availability of caffeinated beverages, the presence on campuses of all-night study areas and poor time-management all contribute to students' sleep deprivation, she adds.
Thacher presented the results of her study during the summer at the annual conference of the National Sleep Society, and it is scheduled for publication in the January issue of the journal Behavioral Sleep Medicine.
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