Second international School On Mind, Brain And Education

2007, May 22-26

Basic and Applied Topics
in Biological Rhythms and Learning

Directors: Antonio M. Battro and Kurt W. Fischer
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani

Abstract: Aileen Kenney

Quantifying sleep and performance of West Point cadets: a baseline study
The prevailing military culture applauds service members who appear “superhuman” in their ability to operate under stressful conditions with very little sleep. Unaware that they are operating with a degraded cognitive function, these same soldiers resist their own homeostatic sleep drive in the name of pride and perseverance, equating the need for full night of sleep with weakness.
At the United States Military Academy (USMA) in West Point, New York, cadets are indoctrinated into that same military culture, assuming a rigorous schedule full of competing demands—military, athletic, and academic. It is certain that cadets today are receiving less than the recommended eight or nine hours of sleep per night for adolescents. Given the current research to investigate the contribution of sleep in the memory consolidation process, prolonged sleep deprivation may be hindering their chance to thrive in their academic pursuits. While prolonged sleep deprivation in a combat situation might be vital to the mission, it is incongruous with learning, and incompatible with an academic environment.
This thesis reports the initial findings of a four-year longitudinal study designed to assess the sleep hygiene of the cadets of West Point. Specifically, survey and actigraphy data on the Class of 2007 were collected and analyzed from their freshman year. Attrition rate in the first year was higher for those who reported being owls than for those who reported being larks. In addition, military, physical, and academic grades were significantly different depending on diurnal preference. Owls seemed to be at an immediate disadvantage. Although morningness/eveningness was not the sole determinant of success or failure at USMA, it was a contributing factor to cadet performance. Additionally, cadets at USMA were undoubtedly getting less than the recommended amount of sleep.