URJHS Volume 7


The Impact of Sleepiness Levels on Academic Achievement for College Students

Jessica Flood, Becky Brensinger, Stacie Cheek
Huntington University


College students are notorious for their sleep deprivation; however, does this lack of sleep affect their academic performance? The present study hypothesized that the sleepiness of fulltime college students aged 18 to 23 would negatively correlate with their cumulative college GPA. The 47 participants completed the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, and their grade point averages were obtained from the Registrar. The data were analyzed using Pearson r with a significance level of .05. The r obtained was compared to the critical r and no significant difference between the variables was found. Therefore the null hypothesis was retained. Future studies should be based on long-term more objective tests of sleepiness rather than self-report.


There have been a number of studies researching the factors that affect a person’s grade point average (GPA). Many of these factors include family life, personality characteristics, employment, and extracurricular activities. Lee and Lee (2007) found that family closeness is a key factor in determining a child’s academic performance. Their results indicated that students who rated their family closeness at a higher level displayed an ability to adjust to their schools better, which could enhance academic performance because they were more comfortable in their environment. Although not suggesting that the closeness of the family is a predictor of GPA, the Halawah study (2006) did indicate that children whose parents were involved in their education and encouraged them to do their work had significantly higher GPAs.

Noftle and Robins (2007) found that conscientiousness affected a person’s GPA. Their results suggested that individuals who increased their level of conscientiousness, such as their level of achievement, effort, and willingness to work hard in their college careers, were more inclined to achieve higher GPAs. Other studies on GPA suggest that “work-drive” is a major contributor to how well a student performs (Ridgell & Lounsbury, 2004). Self-efficacy could be another factor in performance. Klomegah (2007) emphasized that persons’ beliefs about themselves and their abilities could determine what they accomplish and how well they accomplish it.

Cheung and Kwok (1998) indicated that a student’s participation in extracurricular activities may not help their academic achievement and might actually harm it. This might also include employment during school months. Working an excessive number of hours (35 hours or more per week) may have unfavorable consequences for students. Kulm and Cramer (2006) suggested that students who worked this many hours spent less time preparing for class, which resulted in a lower GPA. Students who worked excessive amounts of hours also did not have time to get as much sleep.

Sleep is a very important component of a person’s life, and its potential effects should not be overlooked. There are many studies on the influence of sleepiness that illustrated the detrimental results of losing sleep. Murphy, Richard, Masaki, and Segalowitz (2005) studied the effects of wakefulness on test taking. The tests were given after four hours of wakefulness as well as after 20 hours of wakefulness. They concluded that participants were less able to recognize mistakes that were made during the tests after extended wakefulness.

Sleep is especially important for children still in school. El-Sheikh, Buckhalt, Cummings, and Keller (2007) found many disruptions in third graders including marital conflict, emotional security, child adjustment, and sleep habits using a biological test. They found that marital conflict and emotional insecurity were related. In this study, emotional security was related to sleep disruptions. Sleep disruptions were related to a child’s social problems as well as academic functioning. There was not a direct relationship between marital conflict and sleep, suggesting that emotional security is a central variable. Texeira, Lowden, Turte, Nagai, Moreno, and Latorre (2006) observed sleepiness in high school students. This study examined the sleepiness levels of evening high school students (both workers and non-workers) in Sao Paulo, Brazil. They administered questionnaires about lifestyle and assessed sleepiness by self-reports and a biological test. They found that daytime sleepiness was elevated in the evening for workers. The workers also had a cumulative sleep deficit during the week that was not visible in non-workers.

College students are well known for sleep deprivation; therefore, Buboltz, Brown, and Barlow (2001) researched the sleep quality of this age group. There was a high percentage of sleep problems, which supported past research that college students suffer more from sleep problems than the “normal” adult population. McClelland and Pilcher (2007) also examined college students’ self-report on sleepiness. They surveyed 14 undergraduate students and studied their self-assessment of sleepiness during a 28-hour period of sleep deprivation. At the beginning of the night the participants were able to separate sleepiness into two dimensions, state and behavioral. However, as the night progressed the participants could not distinguish between the two dimensions. Baranski (2007) observed adults during a 28-hour period of sleep deprivation as well. The study focused on the metacognitive ability to self-monitor cognitive performance during sleep deprivation. They found that persons’ ability to assess their performance accuracy did not change significantly with sleep deprivation.

Fredriksen, Rhodes, Reddy, and Way (2004) conducted a longitudinal study of the effects of adolescent sleep loss during middle school. The participants’ sleep loss had a relationship with more depressive symptoms, lower self-esteem, and lower grades. Wolfson and Carskadon (1998, p. 1) agreed and said, “The way adolescents sleep critically influences their ability to think, behave, and feel during daytime hours.”

Given that sleep influences the ability to think, there have been several studies with the variables of sleep and academic achievement. Trockel, Barnes, and Egget (2000) examined the effects of many health-related behaviors and variables on first year college students’ grade point averages (GPA). The health-related variables included exercise, eating and sleeping habits, mood states, perceived stress, time management, social support, spiritual and religious habits, number of hours worked per week, gender, and age. “The relationship between sleep habits and higher GPA appears to be the most significant finding of this study and provides strong support for the hypothesis that sleep habits account for some of the variance in first year college students’ GPAs” (Trockel et al., 2000, p. 5). “Many students who experience academic difficulties do not realize that poor sleep habits may be contributing to their problem” (Brown, Buboltz, & Soper, 2006, p. 1).

Past research focused on university students’ academic performance being influenced by sleep-related variables such as sleep-wake cycles and length of sleep. Kelly, Kelly, and Clanton (2001) hypothesized that undergraduate students who called themselves “short-sleepers” would have a lower overall grade point average than those calling themselves “long-sleepers.” Furthermore, t he Medeiros, Mendes, Lima, and Araujo (2001) study explained that the university students’ irregular sleep-wake cycle and deficiency of sleep negatively influenced their academic performance.

Shin, Kim, Lee, Ahn, and Joo (2003) studied the effects of sleep habits and excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) with school performance in senior high school students. The Epworth Sleepiness Scale defined the excessive daytime sleepiness of each participant. Their school performance was calculated by their final exams of first semester depending on their high or low grade and their rank in class. The results “showed that the prevalence of EDS increased significantly (p< 0.001) with a decline in school performance” (Shin et al., 2003, p. 3).

The Campos-Morales, Valencia-Flores, Castaño-Meneses, Castañeda-Figueiras, & Martínez-Guerrero (2005) study compared basic academic activities, mood states, and sleep habits with levels of sleepiness. The participants were categorized as sleepy or non-sleepy according to the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. They also took a Sleep Habits Questionnaire, the Profile of Mood States, and the Beck Depression Inventory. The participants then were administered short arithmetic and reading comprehension tests for evaluating their academic ability. Their study “supports the need for a heightened awareness of the negative impact of sleepiness on academic performance and future job productivity of otherwise healthy college students” (Campos-Morales et al., 2005, p. 4).

As most past studies suggested, sleepiness was suspected to have a negative relationship with lower academic performance. The present study hypothesized that the sleepiness level of fulltime college students between the ages of 18 and 23 will negatively correlate with their cumulative college GPA.



The participants consisted of 46 students from a private, Christian liberal arts university in the Midwest who were between the ages of 18 and 23. The study excluded any student with less than 12 credit hours (part-time) and outside the age range of 18-23. The resultant sample consisted of 29 females and 17 males. Eighty-nine percent of the participants were Caucasian.

Systematic probability sampling allowed all students at this university, who met the above stipulations, an equal opportunity to be involved in this study. They were systematically selected from a list produced by the Registrar’s office that was arranged by the students’ identification numbers. Every other student was chosen to be a participant by beginning at a random starting point on the list and selecting every other student. There were 392 students selected to participate in this study, with a response rate of 11.7 percent completing the survey.


The first variable of this study was sleepiness and the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS) (Johns, 1993) was used for measuring it (see Appendix A). Johns (1993) reported that the “ESS is a simple questionnaire that asks the subject to rate on a scale of zero to three,” (p. 32) the chance of dozing off during eight different situations. The ESS score is the sum of eight questions and can range from zero to 24. “Item and factor analyses have shown that the ESS is a unitary scale with high internal consistency (Cronback’s alpha = 0.88). The ESS has a high test-retest reliability over a period of five months in normal subjects (r = 0.822, n = 87, p < 0.001)” (Johns, 1993, p. 32).

The second variable was the participants’ cumulative grade point averages (GPAs), which were retrieved from the Registrar’s office after the students signed the consent form. Because the students’ cumulative GPAs were retrieved from the Registrar’s office, the students did not have to self-disclose that information from memory, which made the data more reliable.


After systematically selecting participants, they were emailed a request to participate in this study. Participants were told that their peers chose them for a study. There were three specific sessions where the participants were able to complete the survey. Each session was held at 8:00 p.m. in the same room. A follow-up email was sent two days before the last session encouraging participants to attend. Pizza was used as an incentive to obtain a higher response rate.

When the participants arrived, they were welcomed and read the instructions. First, they were handed a pen and a consent form and asked to read and sign it. After signing the consent form, they were given the ESS and asked to complete it. They wrote their student identification (ID) number on their survey in order to maintain confidentiality. After the research sessions, GPAs were retrieved from the Registrar’s office according to ID number. Participants were allowed to withdraw from the study at any time; however, everyone completed the assigned tasks.


After the surveys were completed, one was omitted because of illegible handwriting, leaving 46 respondents. The score on the first variable (sleepiness) was compared with the corresponding cumulative GPA. The correlation coefficient was produced using Pearson r with a significance level set at .05 with 44 degrees of freedom. When the r obtained (r = -0.016) was compared to the critical r (r = 0.290) it revealed no significant difference between the variables. Therefore, the null hypothesis was retained.

Figure 1. Relationship between sleepiness and academic achievement


The results did not support the hypothesis that sleepiness and GPAs would negatively correlate. The lack of statistical significance between the two variables suggests that a student’s GPA is not affected by their sleepiness; therefore, other factors need to be identified that may correlate with low GPA. Based on the present study, researchers, professors, and those interested in students’ academic achievement could discount sleepiness as a single significant factor.

The present study was completed on a Christian liberal arts campus, whereas most prior research has been completed in a secular environment. It could be proposed that most of the students in the study, all of whom had to sign a life-style contract, would not be losing sleep from risky behavior such as drinking, drugs, and promiscuity. (The life-style contract is an agreement for students to live by Christian morals by not participating in these behaviors.) If the students in this study were losing sleep, it could be due to less risky late night behavior. The Christian environment adds a new dimension and makes this study different from past research and this additional variable could contribute to the unexpected results.

Another possible reason for lack of significant results was the various days the ESS was administered. Depending on the day, the student’s mood, sleepiness, and stress level could have been different, which could have affected the answers given. The scale was completed on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. Although there is no evidence of this, one can surmise that on Sunday, the students might have felt a higher level of stress for the upcoming week and a lack of sleep from the weekend.

Even with no significance being found in this study, the ESS has had high internal consistency reported as well as high test-retest reliability (Johns, 1993). The honest answers of the student’s were crucial to the validity of the ESS. Student GPAs were not self-reported and were obtained from the University’s Registrar’s Office. Therefore, the GPAs had high validity because that variable did not rely on the student’s memory.

Past studies assessed their first variable, sleep, in several different ways. Some research used sleep journals, sleep-wake cycles, and tests on REM sleep. The second variable in these studies included types of academic achievement. Various studies measured this through reading and comprehension tests, which measured short-term academic achievement. Others used cumulative GPAs and final exams to show achievement on a long-term scale. Contrary to the studies that portrayed a significant difference, the present study did not find that increased levels of sleepiness correlated with lower GPAs.

Future studies that correlate sleepiness with academic achievement could have more validity by replacing the self-report measure with a more objective test. A student’s GPA is obtained through years of school and seems to have more stability over time. On the other hand, the student’s sleepiness levels may vary significantly throughout those years. It could be concluded that sleepiness does not affect academic achievement when sleepiness is considered on a short-term scale especially when self-reported. However, sleepiness could affect a person’s academic achievement when considered over time and more objectively rated. If future studies try to correlate sleepiness with academic achievement, it should be through long-term, more objective tests on sleepiness rather than self-report.


Baranski, J. (2007). Fatigue, sleep loss, and confidence in judgment. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 13(4), 182-196.

Brown, F. C., Buboltz, W. C., & Soper, B. (2006). Development and evaluation of the Sleep Treatment and Education Program for Students. Journal of American College Health, 54(4), 231-237.

Buboltz, W., Brown, F., & Soper, B. (2001). Sleep habits and patterns of college students: A preliminary study. Journal of American College Health, 50(3), 131-135.

Campos-Morales, R. M., Valencia-Flores, M., Castaño-Meneses, A., Castañeda-Figueiras, S., & Martínez-Guerrero, J. (2005). Sleepiness, performance and mood state in a group of Mexican undergraduate students. Biological Rhythm Research, 36(1), 9-13.

Cheung, C., & Kwok, S. (1998). Activities and academic achievement among college students. The Journal of Genetic Psychology. 159 (2), 147-162.

El-Sheikh, M., Buckhalt, J., Cummings, E., & Keller, P. (2007). Sleep disruptions and emotional insecurity are pathways of risk for children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 48(1), 88-96.

Fredriksen, K., Rhodes, J., Reddy, R., & Way, N. (2004). Sleepless in Chicago: Tracking the effects of adolescent sleep loss during the middle school years. Child Development, 75(1), 84-95.

Halawah, I. (2006).The effect of motivation, family environment, and student characteristics on academic achievement. Journal of Instructional Psychology. 33 (2), 91-99.

Johns, M. W. (1993). Daytime sleepiness, snoring, and obstructive sleep apnea. The Epworth Sleepiness Scale. American College of Physicians, 103(1), 30-36.

Kelly, W. E., Kelly, K. E., & Clanton, R. C. (2001). The relationship between sleep length and grade-point average among college students. College Student Journal, 35(1), 84.

Klomegah, R. Y. (2007).Predictors of academic performance of university students: An application of the goal efficacy model. College Student Journal. 41 (2), 407-415.

Kulm, T. L., & Cramer, S. (2006). The relationships of student employment to student role, family relationships, social interactions and persistence. College Student Journal. 40 (4), 927-938.

Lee, P., & Lee, C. C. (2007). The relationship of family closeness with college students' self-regulated learning and school adjustment. College Student Journal. 41 (4), 779-787.

McClelland, L., & Pilcher, J. (2007). Assessing subjective sleepiness during a night of sleep deprivation: Examining the internal state and behavioral dimensions of sleepiness. Behavioral Medicine, 33 (1), 17-26.

Medeiros, A. D., Mendes, D. B., Lima, P. F., & Araujo, J. F. (2001). The relationships between sleep-wake cycle and academic performance in medical students. Biological Rhythm Research, 32(2), 263-270.

Murphy, T., Richard, M., Masaki, H., & Segalowitz, S. (2006). The effect of sleepiness on performance monitoring: I know what I am doing, but do I care? Journal of Sleep Research, 15(1), 15-21.

Noftle, E. E., & Robins, R. W. (2007). Personality predictors of academic outcomes: Big fivecorrelates of GPA and SAT scores. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 93 (1), 116-130.

Ridgell, S. D., & Lounsbury, J. W. (2004). Predicting academic success: General intelligence, 'big five' personality traits, and work drive. College Student Journal. 38 (4), 607-619.

Shin, C., Kim, J., Lee, S., Ahn, Y., & Joo, S. (2003). Sleep habits, excessive daytime sleepiness and school performance in high school students. Psychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences, 57(4), 451-453.

Teixeira, L., Lowden, A., Turte, R., Moreno, C., & Latorre, M. (2007). Sleep and sleepiness among working and non-working high school evening students. Chronobiology International, 24(1), 99-113.

Trockel, M. T., Barnes, M. D., & Egget, D. L. (2000). Health-related variables and academic performance among first-year college students: Implications for sleep and other behaviors. Journal of American College Health, 49(3), 125-131.

Wolfson, A. R., & Carskadon, M. A. (1998). Sleep schedules and daytime functioning in adolescents. Child Development, 69(4), 875-887.

Appendix A

Informed Consent

The purpose of the present study is to understand how to better facilitate learning for college students. The involvement in this research study is voluntary, and you may withdraw from it at any time with no penalty. The survey will only take about 5-10 minutes to complete. Through signing this form, you are allowing the researcher to obtain your cumulative college GPA from the Registrar’s Office. The record of your GPA will remain confidential. There are no further obligations to the study. If you have any questions, ask the individual that handed you this form.

Name: ____________________________________________

Date and time: ______________________________________

Signature: __________________________________________




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