The story of high-achieving students who pulls all-night study sessions and are continuously sleep deprived is common in pop culture. However, research would suggest that lack of sleep is not recommended – even for the best of students, as the downsides of this practice can be much more significant than the benefits.
In a recent study conducted with teens aged 15 to 19, participants were placed in one of two groups: one with five hours of sleep opportunity and the other with nine hours of sleep opportunity.
Nine hours of sleep is recommended for teenagers at this stage.
During the two weeks of the study, the participants were assessed for cognitive function three times per day.
The researchers found that the teens who slept for nine hours showed consistently better performance or improved their performance due to the consistent practice. However, the group that slept for only five hours showed a deterioration in various aspects, such as attention span, working memory, executive function, alertness, and mood. These students improved with practice, but less than those who slept for nine hours. Furthermore, it was observed that two nights of sleep with the recommended nine hours was not enough to recover cognitive functions or reverse the effects of the lack of sleep.
The students that participated in the study were from top level schools and were high achieving students. The study was done with an East Asian framework, as many East Asian cultures are highly focused on academic achievement and encourage students to pursue academic success. The authors suggested that academic success should not be achieved at the cost of sleep. In summary, the study highlights the importance of adequate sleep for teenagers and shows that even students who do very well, experience negative effects from sleep deprivation.