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Description: If you are a student (high school, college or university) I suspect you have heard more than once that a good night’s sleep the night before big exams (finals!) is strongly recommended. If you are a psychology student, or have had a research aware teacher, you may have also heard some of the following, research derived findings: 60% of university students in a large American study were described as “poor-quality” sleepers (that is a majority); recommended sleep amounts for adults are 7 to 9 hour a night and for teenagers it is 8 to 10 hours a night; one less hour of sleep a night for a week is equivalent to a complete “all-nighter” with no sleep; shortened sleep increases susceptibility to colds, risk of automobile collisions, and incidence of depression; shortened sleep impairs the abilities to sustain attention, consolidate memories, and perform cognitively (a good idea during exam periods?); and, during finals weeks high school students average 6.38 hours of sleep a night and college/university students average 6.36 hours a night. So, when they need sufficient amounts of sleep most, during exams, students are routinely getting 2 to 3 hours less of it than they should every night. But you KNOW this right? And you get the sleep you need right? Well, putting aside whether you are telling the truth or deluding yourself or tracking your experience in a self-serving manner, it may also be that you are not taking into account the time you spend awake in bed at night during finals week. The researcher who wrote the article linked below calls this an important knowledge-behavior gap, intention-behavior, or implementation gap. You know what to do but you are not doing it. This leads to a research challenge as well as previous studies have tended to rely on self-reports of quality and quality of sleep. What to do? Well, some recently available actigraphy monitors (those things you wear on your wrist that track many factors related to your activity levels) also provide data about sleep amount AND sleep quality. Actigraphy monitors were used in this study. Students were taught in their psychology class about the impacts of sleep reduction and the benefits of sleep during exam weeks. They were then offered a challenge: Average 8 hours of nighttime sleep (naps do not count) each night and no night less than 7 hours during exam week and receive a mark bonus on your Psychology course final. Additionally, those that accepted the challenge and did not meet the sleep goals would lose some marks from their final exam. Before you read about the study using one of the sources listed below think about whether you expect that the challenge worked (lead to sufficient sleep AND better exam performance outside of bonus marks). As well, think about any research design issues that should be considered in this research and then go read about the studies.

Source: The Eight Hour Sleep Challenge During Final Exams Week, Michael K. Scullin, see reference in Reference (Read Further) section below along with links to two media articles on the research and a related academic article link (all added because the original research article is not available for free download  — you will need to access it through your library if you want to see it).

Date: December 14, 2018

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Article Link:

The description of the sleep challenge provided above actually only applied to the first of 3 studies described in the article. You may have wondered if the way the challenge was set might have influenced which students decided to take the challenge and whether they were different than other or average students. In the second study the researcher dropped the “penalty” that was applied to the final exam scores of those who accepted the challenge but did not complete the sleep requirements. As well, the researcher had participants complete an actigraphy analysis of their sleep at the start of term so that their usual or typical non-exam week sleep patterns could be used to compare to their sleep challenge totals. Overall the results were clear: accepting the challenge beat the knowledge-behavior gap and more importantly, those that completed the challenge did better on their final exams than did those who did not complete the challenge (and who had lower levels of sleep during exam week) without the bonus marks being considered. So, the take home here: challenge yourself to get enough sleep during exam week (and, of course, to organize your daytimes to get your studying done so you Can meet the challenge) and you will likely do better on your exams. Yes, getting a good night’s sleep is NOT empty advice, it is supported by research data!

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How much sleep do you get during the lead up to exams?
  2. How confident are you that your subjective sleep estimates are correct?
  3. How might versions of the sleep challenge be systematically implemented into Psychology (and other) classes?

References (Read Further):

Scullin, M. K. (2018). The Eight Hour Sleep Challenge During Final Exams Week. Teaching of Psychology, 0098628318816142. NOTE: To access this article (for free) you will need to go in through your college or university library in order to obtain access. I have asked the journal to consider making it available free on  line as a service to students.

A US News and World Reports article about the research can be found here:

and and Insider Higher Education article can be found here:

The Sleep Challenge research is also described in detail here:

King, E., & Scullin, M. K. (in press). The eight-hour challenge: Incentivizing healthy sleep during end of term assessments. Journal of Interior Design. (Sorry for the size of the link)