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: Nita Lewis Miller
Naval Postgraduate School, USA

Sleep and academic performance in college-age students enrolled in US Military training and education programs
An ever-growing body of scientific evidence supports the positive relationship between sleep and learning, especially memory consolidation. Empirical studies have demonstrated that recollection of novel information is facilitated by adequate amounts of sleep. These findings have far-reaching consequences for academic environments, especially those involving adolescents and young adults. Research has shown that the sleep patterns and sleep requirements of adolescents and young adults are distinctly different from those of other age groups. When compared to adults, the circadian fluctuation of melatonin differs in adolescents and is thought to reflect the underlying processes that control sleep patterns. In this population, melatonin is released later, peaking and dropping off later. Consequently, this population tends to go to bed later, but is less able to wake up early in the morning. Exacerbating this tendency is the fact that adolescents have extremely variable sleep patterns, tending to sleep less on week nights compared to weekends when sleep is reportedly more satisfactory. The combination of erratic sleep habits and increased need for sleep in this age group puts them at high risk of sleep insufficiency that could jeopardize their learning.
When this population is subjected to the rigorous academic and physical demands of the military training regimes such as that seen in military basic training or in military academies, their sleep patterns are continually disrupted with foreshortened sleep periods and inflexibility in opportunities for recuperative sleep. We present results from two studies of young adult populations who are involved in military training and education. The first study examines what happens when the sleep period at the US Navy’s Recruit Training Command (aka ‘Boot Camp’) was extended sleep from 6 to 8 hours per night. Standardized test scores were compared over a 4 year period to examine how sleep contributed to academic performance. The second study reports on a four-year longitudinal research effort to investigate sleep patterns of cadets at the United States Military Academy (USMA). The latter study provides an opportunity to observe sleep in a college age population and record sleep patterns over an entire four-year college experience.