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October 2021 - Year 23 - Issue 5

ISSN 1755-9715

Sleep and Learning

Bahar Kızıltunalı has been a teacher and educational administrator for 40 years. She  has been invited to take part in conferences and focus groups at many prestigious universities, including Oxford and Cambridge in the UK and Brazil. She has  undertaken training in Total Quality Management  and worked as a fully qualified Quality Inspector for City and Guilds for a certain period of time . She has worked closely with leading experts in the field of ELT and has a wide range of contacts within the world of ELT both in Turkey and abroad. One of her particular areas of expertise is testing. Having developed testing programmes for different institutions, she has also worked closely with many respected experts in this field. She also holds a Diploma in ELT Management. E-mail:


Background: Izmir University of Economics

Izmir University of Economics was established officially with 2 faculties, 5 schools, and 2 graduate schools pursuant to Law No.4633 published in Official Gazette No. 24373 and dated April 14, 2001. On July 1, 2001, it moved to its current campus on Balçova with the support of Ahmet Piriştina, the Metropolitan Mayor of Izmir at the time. Starting its education journey with 288 students, Izmir University of Economics, which carries the status of being the first foundation university of the Aegean Region, became one of the most preferred universities across the nation and produced 16 thousand 200 graduates so far. Total of 464 academics, 59 of whom are foreign nationals, work at Izmir University of Economics which has almost 10 thousand students. Izmir University of Economics, which offers 28 associate degree programs, 35 undergraduate programs, 30 masters programs, and 6 PhD programs, continues to take firm steps towards its progress.


What happens when we are sleep deprived

For many years with the low success rate of students, no matter what subject, educators tend to  blame  conact hours ,curriculum or the teachers way of conducting lessons without paying much attendance to other physiologic factors like sleep

We are unable to focus our attention and become less vigilant when we are sleep-deprived, which makes it difficult for us to acquire and comprehend information. When an individual has not received sufficient sleep and rest, his/her over-worked neurons are not able to operate precisely to coordinate information, and it becomes difficult for them to gain access to information learned in the past.

Furthermore, there may be an impact on our understanding of events. We become incapable of taking rational decisions as it is not possible for us to precisely examine the situation, make plans accordingly and select the appropriate behaviour. This causes compromised judgement on our part.

When a person is chronically tired to the extent of experiencing fatigue or exhaustion, they have lower chances of exhibiting good performance. Optimal firing of neurons does not occur, the muscles are not rested and there is a lack of synchronization between the organ systems of the body. A person may even face injuries or accidents if they exhibit lapses in concentration due to sleep deprivation.

Mood is also adversely affected by low-quality of sleep and sleep deprivation, and this influences learning. Mood changes have an impact on our ability to obtain new information and then to remember that information. Though different people are influenced by chronic sleep deprivation in different ways (with all the effects not being fully known), it is evident that learning and memory is strongly influenced by a good night’s sleep.

It has been indicated by several researchers that different sleep stages play a part in consolidating various kinds of memories, and that the capability of a person to learn is decreased by sleep deprivation. Though there continue to be open questions and arguments, it is indicated by the evidence on the whole that sufficient sleep on a daily basis is critical for learning and memory.


Sleep and success relationship

The way sleep is linked to cognitive function has been examined by researchers for more than a century, however, there is insufficient quantitative data that employ objective measures to directly evaluate the relationship between sleep and academic success. The study carried out by AAE (Association of American Educators)showed that improved grades were found to be related to overall, better quality, lengthier and more consistent sleep. However, sleep measures on the night before the test were not found to have any relationship with test performance; rather, improved grades were related to duration and quality of sleep for a month and week before a test. Almost 25% of the variance in academic efficiency was due to sleep measures. Quantitative, objective evidence is offered in these studies regarding the strong relationship between improved quality, longer duration and increased consistency of sleep and improved academic performance in college.

Concerning university students, an important role is performed by working memory and executive function as they are pertinent to comprehending intricate concepts. It has been shown in earlier studies that there is a more powerful relationship between attainment and working memory, rather than with intelligence quotient. Studies have shown in this study that acute sleep deprivation did not have a negative impact on the cognitive potential of students; however, it is also important to perform of review of other cognitive factors . 

University students often experience sleep deprivation, which has been linked to weak performance at the academic front and physical impairment. Nonetheless, the focus of the existing literature with respect to the domains examined is quite narrow. The purpose of this study is to examine how a night of sleep deprivation influences the physical and cognitive performance of students. There are several studies that examine the impact of acute sleep deprivation; however, very limited studies concentrate on university students.

It is believed that the pressures regarding academic tasks and social pursuits give rise to sleep deprivation among university students. Students are not able to attain adequate sleep time and quality of factors like the intake of alcohol caffeine and stimulants and use of technology.

Few studies examined the impact of sleep deprivation on cognitive performance, where it was found that sleep quality was related to grade point average in the first-year university students . In addition, it has also been found that sleep deprivation has a negative impact on particular aspects of working memory like filtering efficiency,

To be successful, school students need to make use of various intellectual abilities. There is a high correlation between theses abilities and academic success. Healthy sleep is critical for optimum learning and memory function of individuals. When a person is suffering from sleep deprivation, their cognitive performance deteriorates because of the rising sleep propensity and inconsistency of waking neurobehavioral functions. Cognitive functions that are specifically influenced by sleep loss consist of psychomotor and cognitive speed, working memory, vigilant and executive attention and greater cognitive capabilities   Due to  lack of sleep, these capabilities are weakened. In addition, it is considered as a narrow intellectual ability that falls under the domain of the wider short-term memory potential that is part of modern of intelligence theory.  


Learning and memory processes

Learning and memory processes are frequently explained with respect to three functions. The inclusion of fresh information in the brain is known as acquisition. The processes that make memory stable are known as consolidation. The capability to either consciously or unconsciously access information once it has been stored is referred to as recall. To ensure appropriate memory function, all of these steps are critical. Acquisition and recall only take place when a person is awake; however, according to research, memory consolidation occurs when a person is asleep. The process involves increasing the strength of the neural connections that create memories. No agreement has been reached regarding how this process takes place during sleep; however, it is believed by most researchers that the particular features of brainwaves within the distinct stages of sleep are related to the creation of specific kinds of memories.

The part played by sleep in learning and memory generation are examined by sleep researchers using two methods. In the first method, the various stages of sleep are assessed (as well as the modifications in their duration) with respect to learning various new tasks. In the second method, the way sleep deprivation influences learning is assessed. There can be total (no sleep at all), partial (early or late sleep is deprived), or selective (particular sleep stages are deprived) sleep deprivation.

The focus of earliest sleep and memory studies was on declarative memory, which refers to the knowledge pertaining to fact-based information, or “what” is known (for instance, the French capital, or what you ate for dinner). Individuals involved in an intensive language course were evaluated in a certain research study, and it was found that they have an increase in rapid-eye-movement sleep, or REM sleep. It is in this stage of sleep that a person most often dreams. It was determined by the scientists that a critical part was played by REM sleep in acquiring learned material. It has been shown in subsequent studies that a part is played by REM sleep in declarative memory procedures if the information is complicated and sensitive; however, it is not involved if the information is simple and neutral from the emotional perspective.

Memory consolidation refers to the procedure through which our brains change short-term memories into long-term ones. Short-term memories are stored in our brains for only around 30 seconds; therefore, if we want to remember anything, then that information has to be transferred to long-term memory.

The way synapses operate in the brain should be understood if one wishes to comprehend the functioning of memory consolidation. Consider an electrical system carrying a current; the signals are transferred by the synapses from neuron to neuron through neurotransmitters. The frequency with which the signals are transmitted determine the strength of the synapses. This process is referred to as potentiation and is considered as being significantly involved in the learning and memory processes. In situations when two neurons fire together repeatedly, then there is greater possibility of them firing together later as well. Ultimately, the two neurons will become sensitized to each other. 

When new experiences, information and memories are acquired, a greater number of connections are generated by our brains. The brain is able to reorganize itself, creating new connections while eliminating the earlier ones.

When information is rehearsed or recalled again and again, the strength of these neural networks increases. For instance, if you review the same material again and again for an extensive time period, the strength of the pathways that are involved in remembering that information increases. When the same neurons are fired in a repeated manner, the chances of the same neurons repeating the firing again in the future increases.

This makes it much easier to recall the information later on, and with a high degree of precision.


The study

Teenagers and adolescents are the primary target of studies examining the impact of sleep on academic achievement. Few research have looked into the sleeping habits of college students. Teenagers and adolescents are the primary target of studies examining the impact of sleep on academic achievement. Few research have looked into the sleeping habits of college students.

The study was based on the experiences of a Turkish English-medium university. The information was gathered from a total of 120 pupils, with one exception. There were 86 female students and 33 male students from the two faculties, with 69 from the Faculty of Law and 51 from the Faculty of Nursing. Skewness/kurtosis and Kolmogorov-Smirnov tests are used to determine normalcy, and the results appear to be satisfactory.


Questionaire findings: Sleep-Wake Questionnaire for University Students (SWQUS)

A total of 120 students answered the questionnaire. During a typical academic week, more than half of students (53.8%) got less than 7 hours of sleep, with the majority getting less than 7 hours the night before an exam (80.9 percent ). Almost half of the respondents (48.2%) reported feeling sleepy during the day on a daily basis. Higher course grades and semester grade point averages were linked to more sleep the night before a test (GPAs).


The average sleep duration over the course of the academic year (sleep duration) was found to have a strong positive relationship with overall score (GPA), indicating that having more sleep was associated to a better overall score. Similarly, there was a strong positive correlation between average sleep quality and total sleep time.

The majority of students do not obtain the recommended 7 hours of sleep per night, with sleep deprivation being particularly high on evenings prior to exams. Higher course scores and semester GPAs are connected to more sleep in the evenings preceding exams. Instructors and administrators should attempt to increase student awareness of the potential impact of sleep.



Sleep durations of less than 7 hours per day for adults have been associated to impaired cognitive performance. Sleep loss affects general alertness and attentiveness, causing cognitive processing to be slower. Sleep deprivation also has an impact on the function of brain areas involved in cognitive activities. The most significantly affected structure is the prefrontal cortex. Studies on the impact of sleep on academic ability are primarily focused on teenagers and adolescents. Few studies have looked into college students' sleeping habits.


The questionnaire

Sleep-Wake Questionnaire for University Students [SWQUS] - «during-the-semester» version


* Sex: □ Female. □ Male. *Age: ____ yr-old

* Do you have children? □ Yes. □ No.

* Undergraduate degree: _____________. *Curricular year: _____.

* Your current major was your… □ first □ second □ third or other … choice

* In the last year, have you completed enough course credits to progress to a new curricular year?

□ Yes. □ No, I have failed most courses.

* What is your student status? □ full-time student; □ part-time student due to part-/full-time job; □ elite athlete

student; □ student union delegate/representative

* Please indicate the town where you live…

… during the school week: __________ … and on weekends / holidays: ___________



Please consider the last month, keeping in mind what usually happens in a typical class week.

* 1. In a typical class week, at what time do you usually…

… go to bed? (on average) ___ h ___ min

…get up? (on average) ___ h ___ min

* 2. On weekends, during the semester, at what time do you usually

… go to bed? (on average) ___ h ___ min

… get up? (on average) ___ h ___ min

Sleep and Academic Performance in Undergraduates 

© Informa Healthcare USA, Inc.

* 3. During the school week, does your bedtime change from night to night?

□ Not at all □ Yes: it varies between ___ h ___ and ___ h ___

* 4. After going to bed, you usually fall asleep within …

□ 1-14 min □ 15-30 min □ 31-45 min □ 46-60 min □ more than 60 min

* 5. How often do you have trouble falling asleep?

□ never □ rarely □ sometimes □ 3-4 nights a week □ almost every night/always

* 6. How many times do you usually wake up during a night’s sleep?

□ none □ once □ 2-3 times per night □ 4-5 times per night □ 6 times or more

* 7. How often do you wake up spontaneously much earlier than needed (i.e., much earlier than your planned waking


□ never □ rarely □ sometimes □ 3-4 nights a week □ almost every night/always

* 8. Are nocturnal or early morning awakenings a problem for you?

□ not at all □ a bit □ somewhat □ often □ very often

* 9. During the school week, does your wake-up time change from day to day?

□ Not at all □ Yes, it varies between ___ h ___ and ___ h ___

10. After waking up, you usually get up within …

□ 1-14 min □ 15-30 min □ 31-45 min □ 46-60 min □ more than 60 min

11. During the semester, how many hours per night do you usually sleep on weekends?

□ 4h or less □ 4-5h □ 5-6h □ 6-7h □ 7-8h □ 8-9h □ 9-10h □ 10-11h □ 11h or more

12. In a typical class week, how many hours per night do you usually sleep?

□ 4h or less □ 4-5h □ 5-6h □ 6-7h □ 7-8h □ 8-9h □ 9-10h □ 10-11h □ 11h or more

13. During a typical week of classes, does your sleep duration change from night to night?

□ Not at all □ Yes, it varies between ___ h ___ and ___ h ___

* 14. In a typical week during the semester, how often do you get the sleep hours you need?

□ never □ rarely □ 1-2 nights a week □ 3-4 nights a week □ almost every night/always

* 15. Regardless of its duration, how would you describe your…

[15.a] … sleep quality? □ very poor □ poor □ fair □ good □ very good

[15.b] .. sleep depth? □ very light □ light □ fairly deep □ deep □ very deep

16. Do you use medication to promote sleep?

□ never □ rarely □ sometimes □ often □ almost every night/always

17. Do you take naps?

□ never □ rarely □ sometimes □ several times a week □ almost always/always

* 18. Usually, during the day:

a) […] §

b) […] §

c) […] §

d) […] §

e) […] §

(§ items on daytime somnolence, each rated in a five-point Likert scale, from Manber et al., 1996)

f) How often do you feel excessively somnolent/sleepy during classes?

□ never □ rarely □ sometimes □ often □ very often/always


Not at all A bit Somewhat Much Very much

a) Energetic □ □ □ □ □

b) Tired □ □ □ □ □

c) Irritable □ □ □ □ □

d) Alert □ □ □ □ □

e) Depressed □ □ □ □ □

f) Nervous □ □ □ □ □

g) Happy □ □ □ □ □

h) Productive □ □ □ □ □

i) Relaxed □ □ □ □ □

j) Efficient □ □ □ □ □

k) Attentive □ □ □ □ □

l) Motivated □ □ □ □ □

m) Active □ □ □ □ □

n) Having difficulties concentrating □ □ □ □ □

 A. A. Gomes et al.

Chronobiology International

Other Sleep Aspects

20. How many hours of sleep per night do you need to feel well?

□ 4h or less □ 4-5h □ 5-6h □ 6-7h □ 7-8h □ 8-9h □ 9-10h □ 10-11h □ 11h or more

21. Did your sleep habits change at the university in comparison to high school?

□ not at all □ a bit □ somewhat □ much □ very much

22. In your opinion, do you have any sleep problems?

□ No □ Yes – Please describe: _________________________________

23. This academic year, did you ever stay awake all night to complete academic tasks?

□ No □ Yes – Please specify how many sleepless nights: _____

24. This academic year, did you ever stay awake all night due to other reasons?

□ No □ Yes – Please specify how many sleepless nights: _____

25. With respect to the place where you sleep most of the time when you are at the university:

a) Do you share your sleeping room with someone else?

□ No □ Yes – specify (e.g., colleague; brother): ______

b) Is your sleep disturbed…

… by noise? □ not at all □ a bit □ somewhat □ much □ very much

… by your roommate? □ not at all □ a bit □ somewhat □ much □ very much □ not applicable



* 26. How many cigarettes do you smoke per day (on average)? Week days: _____ Weekends: _____

* 27. How many glasses of alcoholic beverages do you drink per day (on average)? Week days: ____ Weekends: _____

* 28. How many cups of coffee do you have per day (on average)? Week days: _____ Weekends: _____

* 29. How often do you use other substances?

□ never □ rarely □ sometimes □ often/many times □ very often/always

* 30. How many hours a week do you exercise (on average)? ____

* 31. How many hours a week (on average) do you spend engaging in other extracurricular activities ? ____

* 32. During the class semester, how many hours a week (on average) do you spend studying? ____

* 33. How often do you go out at night (e.g., party, club, disco) until after midnight?

□ almost never □ once a month □ 2-3 times per month □ 1-2 times a week □ 3-4 times a week □ almost

always/every night

* 34. How many lectures do you attend (on average)?

□ every or almost every lecture □ more than half □ half □ less than half □ almost none or none

* 35.For 2nd or 3rd year students: Indicate the answer that best describes your classifications at the university

(0-20 scale), on average:

□ 10 or less □ 10-11 □ 12-13 □ 14-15 □ 16-17 □ 18 or more

For 1st year students- Indicate your admission classification to the university (0-200):

□ less than 100 □ 100-114 □ 115-134 □ 135-154 □ 155-174 □ 175 or higher

* 36. Do you feel your sleep patterns have been negatively influencing your academic performance at the university?

□ strongly disagree □ disagree □ do not know/neither agree nor disagree □ agree □ strongly




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