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Adolescent Sleep Trends and Their Impacts on Academic Performance

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Young People
Wordcount: 2725 words Published: 8th Dec 2020

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Being chronically sleep deprived is a serious threat to the health, safety and educational success of the modern-day generation of teenager. Teens in industrialized countries are displaying symptoms of increased sleep deprivation, but the troubles with tired teens is a public health epidemic. Insufficient sleep has been show to compromise learning, memory, attention and abstract thinking skills. 

Teens tend to stay up late and want to sleep late in the morning. However, it is not that they are being lazy or stubborn. Actually, this is due to natural rhythms of the teen’s body. Body chemicals in teens work to make the teen naturally want to go to bed around midnight or later. These chemicals also make teens want to wake up in the late morning. Early school start times work against these natural body rhythms, along with pressures on a teen’s time after school stop them from going to bed early to make up for lost sleep. The result is often a sleep-deprived teen.


Sleep is a biological necessity and physiological drive.  The effects of inadequate sleep are more than just an annoyance; it affects our mood, they way we perform at school, at work, at home and behind the wheel.  Lost sleep accumulates over time the more sleep debt a person accumulates the greater the negative consequences according to research.  

Over the last several decades, research has shown that adolescents are developmentally vulnerable to sleep difficulties.   Tired teens are a public health epidemic (Richter, 2015).  

Teens on average need about 8 to 10 hours of sleep at night, but most do not get the amount of sleep they need. School, friends, homework, activities, the internet, and TV may all have a higher priority for a teen than sleep. Not getting enough sleep (sleep deprivation) can lead to serious problems for a teen’s health and well-being.

Statement of the Problem

The problem to be studied is sleep trends during adolescence and their impacts on student academic performance. Trying to discover if sleep has a negative effect on a student's academic performance can shed light on many areas. First, it could lead to a more thorough explanation of a student's poor academic performance. If sleep patterns do have an effect on how well or poorly a student performs in school, then it may rule out a potential learning disability. Overlooking the element of sleep during student's evaluation, could lead to a misdiagnosis of some other nonexistent problem. Something as simple as the lack of sleep can be the solution to many of the problems that a student is having in school.

Review of Literature

Sleep is the foundation, on which many factors of teen life are placed, such as diet, exercise, cognition, mood, memory, and decision-making. Many American teens do not receive an adequate amount of sleep and it is resulting in negative consequences such as poor grades, the inability to concentrate, drowsy driving incidents, depression, thoughts of suicide and even suicide attempts (Richter, 2015). Adolescent moodiness may also be a repercussion of insufficient sleep (Fredricksen, Rhodes, Reddy, & Way, 2004).

Understanding Sleep

Reported reasons for the inadequate amount of sleep include, overscheduling, evening activities, temperature inside the home, noise, homework are also reported to be hindering quality sleep (Appold, 2014).   Most adolescents require between 8-10 hours of sleep per night (Wheaton, Jones, Cooper, & Croft, 2018), but not all are getting it.

Benjamin Franklin is quoted to have said: "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise".  In the instance of adolescents this not the best advice.  It is believed that, circadian rhythms in adolescence begin to exhibit a significant phase shift, caused by puberty hormones and melatonin release, which shift the teenager’s body clock forward by about one or two hours, making them sleepier one to two hours later. This shift in turn increases a teenager’s difficulty in falling asleep before midnight (Sabia, Wang, & Cesur, 2017). Because of the sleep delay, they do not enter rejuvenating REM sleep until later in the morning sometimes before their alarm clock goes off.  It has been compared to an adult being awakened at four in the morning, or 2 hours before most adults rise.   This phenomenon is referred to as sleep phase delay. This shift in sleep wake patterns makes it difficult for teens to get restful rejuvenating sleep with dream phases if they are woke too soon. Yet, while the teenager falls, asleep later, early school start times do not allow them to sleep in. This nightly ‘sleep debt’ leads to chronic sleep deprivation   More than half of 15-17 year olds sleep 7 hours or less per night (Appold, 2014).

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On school nights, many adolescents experience an insufficient amount of sleep (less than 8 hours) with this pattern occurring across the school week adolescents gradually accumulate a significant sleep debt as a result most then with typically sleep in on weekends most likely in an attempt to obtain more sleep. This sleeping in reduces their accumulated sleepiness over the weekend and as a result they may begin to have considerable difficulty falling asleep and get insufficient sleep at the start of the following school week, and so the cycle continues.  The teen becomes progressively sleepier during the week.  The sleep loss is cumulative (IMNRC, 2000).

Sleep and Academics

Sleep and academic performance may be related through several pathways and mechanisms.  A direct effect of sleep has been shown in experimental studies in which sleep restriction has resulted impaired learning and memory performance in early adolescence.  Sleep may also impact upon academic performance indirectly through tardiness or school absence, which often accompanies sleep problems in the age group (Hysing, Harvey, Linton, Askeland, & Siversten, 2016).

A 2012 study of 7798 16-19 year old students in Norway studied sleep duration sleep pattern and academic performance.   The main aim was to assess the association between a range of self report sleep variable and registry based GPA.  The research concluded that adolescents sleeping between 7 and 9 hours had the highest GPA compared with both longer sleep duration of greater than or equal to 9 hours, and especially short sleep duration of less than 5 hours. Sleep efficiency (time asleep after student was in bed) was also a factor (Hysing et al., 2016).

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In a longitudinal study conducted by Gillen, Huynh and Fuligni (2013), they investigated if the nightly variations in adolescents’ study and sleep time are associated with academic problems on the following day. For the study participants completed daily diaries every day for 14 days in 9th, 10th, and 12th grades. The results suggest that no matter how much a student generally studies each day, if that student sacrifices sleep time to study more than usual, he or she will have more trouble understanding material taught in class and be more likely to struggle on an assignment or test the following day. Because students are increasingly likely to sacrifice sleep time for studying in the latter years of high school, this negative dynamic becomes increasingly prevalent over time. The association between study time and academic problems occurs regardless of whether or not students have a test coming up and, therefore, is not simply an artifact of studying for and taking a difficult test. Importantly, there was no evidence of individual differences in any of the findings. This suggests that the daily dynamics of studying, sleep, and academic functioning are similar across individuals regardless of demographic characteristics such as gender or ethnic background (Gillen et al., 2013).

Sleep Loss and Working Memory Performance

Strength of memory may be better preserved by periods of sleep than it is by equivalent periods of time awake (Walker, 2009).  According to Richter (2015), studies have shown students who sleep less suffer academically.  Chronic sleep loss impairs an adolescent’s ability to remember, concentrate, think abstractly and solve problems. Insufficient sleep associated with impairment across a range of functional domains.  Sleep duration accounts for as much as 64% of the variance in cognitive processes that are essential to academic functioning, working memory, and attention. (Laracy, Ridgard, & Dupaul, 2015).

It has been suggested that particular intellectual abilities that are integral in academic achievement may be susceptible to sleep loss.  One such ability is working memory.  An Australian, study of 143 adolescent age 13-18 volunteers in which the subjects completed online questionnaires and the working memory task of letter-number sequencing and operation span tasks.  Based on self reported total sleep time of school nights the adolescents reporting insufficient sleep performed worse on both letter-number sequencing and operation span tasks compared with borderline sleepers, but not compared with sufficient sleepers. (Gradisar, Terrill, Johnston, & Douglas, 2008).

In their study Lo, Ong, Leong, Gooley and Chee (2016), restricted their subjects sleep to five hours or extended sleep to nine hours for seven nights, and evaluated cognitive performance. When compared to students in the extended sleep group, the students given sleep restriction showed significant deficits, including in executive function, working memory (our ability to temporarily store and manipulate information) and sustained attention. Following sleep restriction, the students in this group had three recovery nights, each with an opportunity for nine hours’ sleep. The authors reported that, despite sleep extension, those that had been sleep restricted still showed deficits in their ability to sustain attention and remain alert, illustrating that recovering from restricted sleep takes more than can be achieved in a weekend.

Early School Start Times vs. Delayed School Start Times

Early school start times and adolescent sleep have been subject of debate and have created a movement for later school start times for adolescents.  A push for later school start times has been one proposed solution to help remedy the problem of adolescent sleep deprivation. 

Later school start times increase the average sleep time for students, which will generate important schooling benefits.  Increases in sleep duration among adolescents have been linked to enhanced memory, and enhanced concentration (Sabia et al., 2017).  The study conducted by Sabia, Wang and Cesur (2017), concluded that there is some evidence increased sleep duration 8.5-9 hours per night is associated with improvements in academic concentration and homework completion.  Increased sleep duration up to 8.5 hours a night is also associated with an increased probability of high school diploma receipt and college attendance. The result from higher graduation rates producing more skilled workers, would justify economists exploration of child health and human capital development (Sabia et al., 2017).

Failing to show up to school and dozing off during early morning classes contributes directly to poor standardized test results, low grades and school dropout rates.  Many supporters argue that delaying classes until 8:30 a.m. or later, students would be able to get more sleep and thus improve attendance, test scores, and graduation rates.


The overall findings for the research discussed were that decreased sleep time had a negative impact on academic performance across all groups that were studied.  The research also provided evidence that poor sleep patterns could contribute to certain psychopathologies such as, depression, and behavioral problems.    A push for later school start times has been one proposed solution to help remedy the problem of adolescent sleep deprivation.  Parental involvement in setting sleep and wake times can be important in establishing healthy sleep patterns.  Older children and teens often have more control over their sleep schedule, and are more likely to engage in unsupervised nighttime activities than younger children are. Older students may stay up later doing homework and wake up earlier for school. Many teenagers work part-time after school, which may push back bedtime as they stay up later in order to complete homework, socialize with friends and family, or relax.  The use of smart phones and other devices used around bedtime may also reduce sleep time.

Statement of Hypothesis

Demonstrated relationship between amount of sleep and poor academic performance suggests that careful assessment of sleep could be warranted when adolescents are underperforming at school. The hypothesis to be tested in this study assumes that academic performance will be negatively impacted by the amount of time the student sleeps. In other words, the academic performance of the students with 8-9 hours of sleep will exceed the academic performance of those students who sleep less than 8 hours and those students who sleep more than 9 hours.  Other variables to be considered are do a student’s race or sex have any influence on amount of sleep and academic performance.


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