Alaska Sleep Education Center

How Lack of Sleep Affects Student Brain Performance

Posted by Laura Fields on Sep 23, 2020 9:08:37 AM

The vast majority of students, experts in education, and psychologists would agree that the current education system puts too much strain on young people. Colleges are becoming more and more competitive, not to mention the current productivity trend, which makes many students commit to way too many extracurricular activities and advanced placement classes than they can handle. 

Luckily, there are many ways students can get academic assistance. Laura Fields,  a teacher and sleeping expert, said:”There’s one thing that students must take care of themselves: sleep. Many students neglect sleep, but that’s a mistake that can bring serious consequences. Here’s how brain performance can be affected by sleep deprivation.”

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels


One of the topics that has been explored quite a lot in the recent studies of sleep is its effect on memory and cognitive functions. Sleep is essential for the creation of long-term memories, which is the kind of memories that help students remember what they learned and constantly build up their knowledge. Not only does sleep strengthen neural connections between brain cells, but it also uses the nighttime to determine which memories are worth saving and which ones are unnecessary. This is particularly important since forgetting and remembering are both parts of the same process, therefore a brain that is good at forgetting useless information will be capable of doing a better job of keeping information that is important.

Naturally, in order to remember the information you learned, you need to be in the right state of mind to acquire new information in the first place. That means being able to focus and pay attention for long periods of time. And there are multiple reasons why students cannot concentrate in their morning classes, especially if there was some homework to be done the night before. If a student is sleep-deprived, their brain cells can still perform most of the tasks, but they do it in a much slower, ineffective way. Even the simplest task that wouldn’t give well-rested students any trouble at all will take much more time and energy if they don’t get enough sleep.

Another capability that heavily relies on good sleep is multitasking. Since multitasking requires a lot of mental effort, a tired brain isn’t capable of doing several things simultaneously. That’s exactly the reason why so many students get into car accidents: it’s a demanding cognitive task and a physical task at the same time. And so is studying: in order to be a successful student, you have to set correct priorities, manage your time wisely, and deal with several different subjects in one day. 

Besides helping absorb information, sleep also improves a brain’s ability to make sense of information and surroundings. Research shows that sleep deprivation affects brain performance in the same way as alcohol. Neurons in a tired student’s brain struggle to interpret visual information and draw conclusions that would help them behave in a safe and appropriate manner. And while drunk driving is regulated by law, education systems all over the world organize educational processes in a way that leaves students without enough sleep. 

by Andrea Piacquadio from PexelsIn general, it is safe to say that sufficient sleep is crucial for creativity. Ideally, students shouldn’t just be able to absorb and store information, they should also learn to find ways to interpret and use their knowledge in new ways, not to mention art students whose careers demand creative thinking on a daily basis. While sleep deprivation is detrimental for any kind of intellectual work, it is especially relentless when it comes to creativity. Convergent thinking, which helps us make correct decisions and find correct answers, keeps functioning for a much longer time than divergent thinking, which is responsible for flexibility and thinking outside the box.

Still, the relationship between sleep and creativity may seem to be a little complicated. At first glance, you might feel like your brain comes up with the most unexpected solutions late at night right before you go to sleep. But that doesn’t mean that tiredness makes you more creative. After all, when we’re falling asleep, our brains are preparing to shut down, not to work. 

And what about all those stories of people getting genius ideas in their sleep? Paul McCartney claimed the melody of his legendary song Yesterday came to him at night when he was asleep. James Cameron was struggling with flu and high fever and once he finally fell asleep, he dreamt about a character who has later become the iconic Terminator.

Even if you’re skeptical when it comes to such stories, scientists also have something to say regarding sleep and creativity. Research shows that REM sleep, which is a phase when we see dreams, is the key to being able to think creatively when you’re awake. While REM sleep is a part of every sleep cycle, it becomes longer with every phase. This way, the more you sleep, the more creative powers you acquire. By limiting themselves to only 5 or 6 hours of sleep instead of 8, students miss out on the sleeping cycle that would be the most beneficial for their creative thinking. 

Finally, lack of sleep may cause serious mental health problems, which can have a huge influence on the students’ motivation and ability to study. For example, depressed people usually sleep either too much or too little. It is hard to determine whether lack of sleep causes depression or whether depression itself leads to insufficient sleep. Nevertheless, it is certain that lack of sleep can worsen depression and anxiety.

Sometimes depressed people sleep too many hours, but that still doesn’t mean they are getting enough rest: in most cases, longer sleep is also low-quality sleep. Such a correlation between sleep and mental health can be explained by the fact that depressed people’s brains don’t function well enough to ensure a healthy circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm, which is governed by a particular part of a human’s brain, controls your sleep-wake cycle. If it is disrupted, you won’t be able to get enough sleep at night or function properly during the day. 

Tips for Improving Mental Health

There is a lot of overlap between anxiety and insomnia in terms of strategies and tips for alleviating your suffering.

  • Learn and practice meditation; you can use apps like Calm and Headspace to guide you.
  • Avoid caffeine and sugary foods and drinks.
  • Avoid drinking and smoking
  • Try aromatherapy with lavender oil, which may contain anxiety-reducing properties.
  • Eat well and drink enough water.
  • Exercise regularly, but if you have insomnia, make sure it’s early in the day.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help you learn to question and challenge your negative thought patterns that lead to anxiety

To get up-to-date help with anxiety and insomnia, go to

If you live in Alaska, call Alaska Sleep Clinic @ 907-770-9104. We are the only sleep lab in the state with a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist specializing in sleep, Dr. Angela Randazzo.  


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About the author

Laura Fields is a lifelong learner and a passionate educator with a Master’s degree in English. She’s a professional academic writer at Best Essay Services Radar  whose main goal is to help every student achieve academic access. Also, she is interested in the impact of sleep on the quality of education.


Topics: anxiety, mental, brain, students, managing stress, poor sleep

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