person studying
Sleep Health

How Sleep Affects Your Ability To Learn

  •  Purple Author Icon
    Last Updated
    August 7, 2023
    min read

    Late night study sessions. Long hours spent in the library before midterms. Students often sacrifice sleep in order to maximize their time spent studying. But is it worth it? How does sleep affect your ability to learn?  

    Today, there is a plethora of studies with conclusive evidence regarding the impact of sleep on learning. Two MIT professors have gone as far as identifying the relationship between student’s grades and the amount of sleep they’re gettingi.  

    According to this aforementioned study, a regular routine of good sleep — not just the night before a test — is key to retaining information, performing well in class, and earning good grades.ii In this article, we discuss how sleep affects learning and provide information regarding our Teachers and Students Program that honors the importance of sleep in education.  

    How Does Sleep Affect Your Learning? 

    Sleep affects learning in tremendous ways. Whether you’re a student, teacher, or business professional, everyone has experienced too few hours of sleep only to struggle through class or work the following day. You strain to recall the concept you learned last week. The words fail to come to you when you put pen to paper. The mid-class brain fog will not go away.  

    Even without knowledge of the studies that prove such connection, your experience has probably informed you that sleep greatly impacts learning — but how?   

    How Sleep Improves The Ability To Learn 

    Scientists hypothesize that sleep improves the ability to learn by strengthening memory, restoring our ability to think creatively and allowing the brain time to process previous experiences making adequate room for new information and stimuli.iii 

    Sleep is especially important for adolescents (those between the ages of 10 and 24 years). Adolescence is a critical period of biological and social change that impacts cognitive, behavioral and emotional functions, and sleep is essential to ensuring those processes function properly.iv 

    In a 2019 study at MIT, 100 engineering students were given Fitbits that tracked physical activity and, more importantly, sleep.v After analyzing the amount of sleep achieved by each student and cross-referencing with the grades they received on 11 quizzes, 3 midterms, and a final exam, a straight-line relationship was established. For the students that slept longer and more regularly in comparison to their peers, they tended to perform better across all aspects of education — conclusively, it was determined that sleep improves the ability to learn.  

    While we toss around the concept of R&R in conversation, allowing your body and brain to rest and recharge has immense power to it. Beyond the added energy, sleep is the key to learning because it promotes the ability to save knowledge, recall knowledge, and utilize that knowledge to create innovative solutions.  

    Scientifically speaking, quality sleep in adequate amounts results in improvements of physical and mental health, academic performance, and neural-behavioral function — a “firing on all cylinders” response that pays off in day-to-day life, and more notably, in school.  

    How Sleep Negatively Impacts The Ability to Learn

    Sleep negatively impacts the ability to learn when one is not getting enough sleep or quality sleep. This results in a multitude of negative consequences and compromises health and daytime 

    To ensure that sleep becomes a powerful tool for educational success, 9-9.5 hours of sleep are needed per night.vii When this isn’t achieved, studies show that brain function and overall well-being suffer — common consequences include persistent fatigue, increased body weight, higher blood pressure, headaches, and general body pain.viii 

    The studies performed around sleep’s impact on learning has urged many school systems to implement later school start times.ix Lack of sleep has become an expansive health issue particularly amongst adolescents and young adults due to late-night social engagements and physical activity, prolonged exposure to bright light via phones and computers, and added stress from homework and the prospect of acquiring a job.x 

    While the specifics around how exactly sleep impacts learning are still being sorted, there’s no denying that a lack of sleep negatively affects one’s ability to learn. Our bodies require deep sleep, every single night for the appropriate amount of time, so even one all-nighter spent cramming before a test can offset the whole balance of your system.  

    How Does Sleep Improve Memory? 

    Sleep improves memory by expanding your capacity to retain information. Most have heard the common encouragement: “Get good sleep tonight. You’ve got a big day tomorrow.” But this isn’t necessarily true. 

    In fact, studies show that it’s the sleep you get surrounding the days spent learning that are most important.xi Quality sleep ahead of learning prepares the brain for the initial formation of memories, while sleep following the intake of new information works to save and cement what you’ve learned.  

    School performance is often based on one’s ability to test, which means one’s ability to recall information. Scientists today have found that sleep is a direct contributor to one’s ability to memorize, retain, and utilize learned knowledge. So, if cramming the night before a test is your method, you may want to think again.  

    Prioritizing a regular routine of quality rest allows your brain to process the information you’re learning in class each day. When it comes time to study, you should find the recollection of curriculum comes more naturally and testing goes much smoother.  

    The Importance Of Sleep For Students 

    Paying attention in class, doing the correct readings, and applying yourself in homework will only get you so far if you’re not getting a good night’s rest regularly. While many believe the most important factor of quality sleep is the quantity of time spent sleeping, one study found that those falling asleep past 2 A.M., regardless of meeting the recommended quantity of sleep, suffered in academic performance when compared with peers.xii This study emphasizes the importance of not only getting enough sleep, but regulating the pattern in which you sleep.  

    Our circadian rhythm is the natural 24-hour cycle that influences our sleep patterns and therefore our physical, mental and behavioral functions. By keeping to a regular, appropriately-timed sleep schedule, we allow our circadian rhythm to function properly. This optimizes your body’s ability to rest when it needs to rest (by falling asleep quickly) and performing when it needs to perform (by rising easily and maintain adequate energy throughout the day). 

    While many believe losing a few hours of sleep will result in extra fatigue the following day, they’re not wrong. However, sleep has widespread effects on biological, psychological and social functions that can all suffer should lack of sleep become a regular habit.xiii The life of a student is vibrant — athletic events, social functions, job fairs, and interviews. With so many responsibilities that vie for different elements of your attention, it’s incredibly important for students to prioritize sleep. Rejuvenating rest night after night promotes better academic performance, but also improves your ability to conversate, remember names, draw connections, and optimize every precious moment spent as a student.  

    woman laying on mattress studying

    Purple's Teachers Plus Students Program 

    Amidst social obligations and mid-term papers, sleep is oftentimes removed from the list of priorities. This is why we’ve developed a Teachers and Students Program that offers a 10% discount on an entire purchase for university and college students as well as high school, university and college teachers. Visit our Education Discount page for further details on this program.  

    The Ultimate Starter Mattress

    We’ve determined the importance of sleep for students, but how does one achieve restful rejuvenation night after night in various living situations while keeping to a student-friendly budget? 

    Purple’s PurpleFlex™ Mattress is designed to embark young adults on their journey to deep sleep. Designed with our proprietary GelFlex® Grid, the PurpleFlex™ Mattress provides the perfect introduction to all-night pressure relief, support and temperature balance. Traditional spring and memory foam mattresses fail to dynamically combine cozy comfort (the key to falling asleep fast) with cradling support (the key to waking up feel restored) — but the PurpleFlex™ does. Get 10% off the ultimate starter mattress your roommates will be fighting you for. 

    How To Level-Up Your Study Space: Seat Cushions

    By this time, you’d think schools would provide comfortable seating solutions more conducive to studying. We all know a sore backside is the ultimate nail in the focus coffin. While the chairs themselves may never improve, Purple has innovated a solution that upgrades your standard work environment. 

    Purple’s collection of seat cushions has changed the game for students, teachers, professionals, and all people who find themselves in a chair of any kind for extended periods of time. Each cushion is designed with 100% GelFlex® Grid that flexes to reduce pressure, prevent overheating, and keep you comfortable after hours and hours of use.  

    Our seat cushions have become such a favorite, that customers are buying one for every chair they find themselves sitting in on the daily. Transform your study sessions and get 10% off a Purple seat cushion today.  

    The Best Bed Frame For Students

    From dorm room to apartment, an adjustable base is the undisputed favorite for students. Replace the noisy coffee shops and distracting library halls with the comfort of your own room. Purple’s adjustable bases allow you to transform your bed into a comfortable, seated platform on which to do your best work. With customizable head and foot sections, find the study position that works best for you.  

    About the authors

    Purple Staff
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