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Is lack of sleep bad for study performance?

The Netherlands Association for Sleep-Wake Research is studying this issue. Lead researcher Kristiaan van der Heijden, Leiden psychologist and sleep specialist, invites students to take part in the study.

What do we know about how sleep affects students’ study performance? 

‘Research has already been conducted internationally among medical students. It showed that they do indeed perform worse if they haven’t had enough sleep. But we have to take care not to attribute that only to poor rest at night. It can be misleading to put it down only to the number of hours of sleep, because one person needs more sleep than another; the quality of the sleep is also important. Not only that, bad habits such as drinking too much alcohol can also have an effect. We are looking at several different factors and want to study them in a broader student population. We need five hundred to a thousand students who are willing to take part in the study.’ 

How is the study organised?

‘Students fill in an online questionnaire anonymously that asks about their study performance, sleep patterns and other factors such as alcohol and drug use. They also have to do a working memory test of about fifteen minutes. We ask them to do the test so we can measure the likely effect of drowsiness on their memory. Such a one-off task is obviously a snapshot, but it can provide some interesting details because we also ask questions about their previous night’s sleep. Participants can see their score in the memory task immediately after they have finished and they’re also given an explanation of how to interpret the result. The individual results are not passed on to anyone else.’ 

Do you have any advice for students who have exams in the coming period?

‘We also ask students about their sleep hygiene: do they go to bed as a regular time, and is their bedroom dark and quiet? These are all factors that determine the quality of their sleep and so can have an effect on how refreshed they are in the morning.’   

Taking part in the study

Students can still take part in this study until 15 February by going directly to the online questionnaire. All those who participate have the chance of winning a gift token. The results will be published at the end of March 2016 on nswo.nl. This research is a joint project between the Netherlands Society for Sleep-Wake Research, the Heart Foundation and Leiden University.