Study Shows a Sliding Scale of Sleep Needed for Academic Achievement

By Hannah Rose Sacks — March 01, 2012 1 min read
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How much sleep do students need to do well in school? It’s not necessarily as much as previously thought. However, a new study conducted by Eric R. Eide and Mark H. Showalter of Brigham Young University says the real answer is: it depends.

The study, published online in January by Eastern Economic Journal, sought to determine the optimal number of hours students need to achieve at the highest levels. To determine the optimal amount of sleep, they compared standardized test scores in mathematics and reading with the self-reported number of hours students were typically sleeping each night.

The researchers focused on the sleep and achievement data of students between the ages of 10 and 19. The data, pulled from the Child Development Supplement (CDS) of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), offered a nationally representative sample.

Policy guidelines often recommend students receive 9.25 hours of sleep. However, the study shows the optimal amount of sleep may be much lower than that and depends heavily on the student’s age. Overall, the study estimates that the amount of sleep needed for maximum academic achievement declines significantly as students age.

The study found the optimal sleep amount for 10-year-olds ranges between 9 and 9.5 hours, while for 18-year-olds it is slightly less than 7 hours. At ages 12 and 16, children need between 8.34 to 8.43 hours and 7.02 to 7.35 hours, respectively, the study found.

The study’s results raise the issue of whether students receiving too much sleep may see a reduction in academic achievement. While more research is needed, the authors conclude that this is possible.

Knowing more about optimal sleep amounts remains only part of the story. The research suggests that while parental involved and enforcement of sleep schedules is important, it is not always effective. Particularly as students get older, parents are less likely to have influence over their children’s sleep schedule, with older students having more responsibilities and independence.

Do these results surprise you?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.