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Tuesday
Aug212012

Cramming May Be Damning for Your Grades

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- High school students who choose to sacrifice their sleep to get extra studying time in may fare worse academically the next day compared with their well-rested peers, new research suggests.

In a study released Tuesday in the journal Child Development, UCLA researchers studied 535 students as they progressed through ninth, 10th and 12th grade to see how lack of sleep affected their academic performance.  Using a diary that they kept for 14 days straight, the students answered the following questions:

  • Did you do homework or study today while not in school?  If yes, for how long?
  • How many hours and minutes did you sleep last night?
  • Did you have problems understanding something taught in class today or do poorly on a test, quiz, or homework?

What researchers found was that as the students advanced through high school, the downsides of sacrificing sleep time for study time became more apparent.  Ninth grade students who spent extra time studying on a particular night did not have worse academic performance the next day.  By 12th grade, however, students who made the same tradeoff reported deficits the next day in understanding class material or on test performance.

In practical terms, this study argues that studying at the expense of sleep may not be a wise decision.

"Although studying is essential, sleep is important for learning," says Dr. Phyllis C. Zee, professor of neurology and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern University.  "Even one night of sleep loss can negatively affect performance."

"This should make not only high school students but also college students and even professionals rethink the common practice of 'cramming' for exams, work projects, et cetera, at the expense of sleep loss," Zee continued.

Dr. Andrew Fuligni, professor of psychiatry at UCLA and senior author on the study, emphasizes that it is not problematic to spend more time studying overall -- as long as it is not at the expense of sleep.  Previous studies have confirmed that the same amount of study time spread evenly over several days leads to better academic performance than trying to study all at once.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio