All-Nighters and Catch-up Sleep Spoil Creativity

College students are known for pulling all-nighters to study for exams or finish major projects before the deadline. But at what cost?

A study by researchers at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, looked at the creativity and attention of interior design students after sleep marathons, where students sleep long periods of time to catch up on rest, according to CBC News.

all-nighters sleep college creativity

Students were asked to track their hours of rest with a sleep journal and to wear an activity wristband for seven days. They performed tasks to measure their attention and creativity at the beginning of the study and then repeated those tasks at the end of the week.

Researchers found that the students overestimated how much they slept by 36 minutes, 79% slept fewer than seven hours a night for a least three nights per week, and many students rotated between nights of short sleep and nights of long/recovery sleep, according to the study abstract in the Journal of Interior Design.

Those who had variable sleep patterns or who consistently slept fewer than seven hours a night showed a decline in attention and creativity.

Michael Scullin, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor and one of the study authors, hopes this will lead to discussion about the importance of sleep to students.

“When we have some big deadline, something to complete, we have this inclination to (cut back on) healthy activities. People cut back on exercise, eating healthy and sleep, and this impairs the ability to think creatively,” he says. “Students should try to maintain those healthy habits because it plays better in functioning as a student.”

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