Sleep Problems Equal To Binge Drinking, Marijuana Use In Predicting Poor Academic Performance

Sleep Problems Equal To Binge Drinking, Marijuana Use In Predicting Poor Academic Performance

MINNEAPOLIS -- While the temptations to stay up late are many, a small new study suggests a very good reason for college students to hit the hay. Those who are poor sleepers are more likely to get worse grades and to withdraw from a course, according to a new study. In fact, the effects of poor sleep were about as strong as binge drinking and marijuana use on a student's academic performance.

The researchers analyzed data from over 43,000 students included in the spring 2009 American College Health Association's National College Health Assessment (NCHA). After controlling for potentially confounding factors that might predict how a college student fares academically, like clinical depression, feelings of isolation or chronic health problems, the researchers found that getting poor sleep was a strong predictor of problems at school.

While few students are likely to have a clinical sleep disorder, Roxanne Prichard, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota tells The Huffington Post, about 60 percent say they have some kind of problem sleeping. But for all the effort colleges put into anti-drinking and de-stressing campaigns, little time or money is spent to promote better sleep -- and doing so could help both students and the colleges themselves, she says.

"Sleep really isn't systematically approached in a way that could have major economic benefits to both the students and the universities in terms of increased retention," she says. Indeed, reducing the number of courses a student withdraws from by just one ups his or her probability of graduating by 14 percent, she says -- and it goes without saying that student retention is good for a university's bottom line.

Prichard hopes more schools decide to include a screening for sleep problems among students, which could ultimately limit costs of care of university health centers, she says. "I don't think sleep problems are showing up on the questionnaire intake forms for health services, and that could be explaining a lot of the other problems that you see showing up," she says. "Recurrent illness could be sleep problems."

Prichard and co-investigator Monica Hartmann, Ph.D., professor of economics at the University of St. Thomas, found that poor sleep was even more detrimental among freshmen, according to the study. "I think that's partially because freshmen have the worst sleep of any age group," she says. Not only are they hungry for independence from their parents, but they also are more likely to be "delayed phase" -- essentially, they are more biologically inclined to be night owls because of their age, she says. Focusing especially on first-year students is a smart idea for universities, she says, because freshmen-year success (or lack thereof) is a strong predictor of whether or not a student drops out his or her sophomore year.

The research, published in an online supplement of the journal SLEEP, will be presented Tuesday, June 3, at SLEEP 2014, the 28th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.