Good sleep is strongly linked to learning, memory, creativity, and problem solving. However, poor sleep habits notoriously plague college and university students, depriving them of performing their best when it matters the most. Research into the problem has generally been limited to sleep surveys of single universities, for short periods, of less than 1,000 students (1–10, for example). Leveraging the sleep tracking capabilities of UP by Jawbone, we can take an unprecedented look at how tens of thousands of college students sleep across the country at over 100 universities, totaling 1.4 million nights of sleep.
HOW UNIVERSITIES SLEEP
Students who track their sleep with UP at these schools average 7.03 hours of sleep during the week, and 7.38 hours of sleep on weekends. Female students get significantly more sleep than their male counterparts, averaging 23 more minutes per weeknight and 17 more minutes per weekend night. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that students get between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. At first blush, this may appear that students are getting enough sleep. However, framed another way, students slept less than 7 hours on 46.2% of the nights in this study.
An even larger difference can be seen between bedtimes for men and women. On weeknights women go to sleep on average at 12:23am and wake up at 8:09am, while men go to bed 39 minutes later and sleep in 22 minutes more. On weekends the effect is even larger: women go to bed at 1:01am on average and wake up at 9:07am, with men going to sleep 42 minutes later and sleeping in 28 minutes more.
ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE AND SLEEP
We see a strong relationship between a school’s average bedtime on weeknights and their US News and World Report’s 2016 college ranking (data nerds: r2 = 0.45). The tougher the school, the later the students go to bed, with Columbia and UPenn having the latest bedtimes. We also looked for a relationship between urban/city schools and suburban/rural schools and bedtime, but the effect was small and weak. The relationship between these rankings and amount of sleep was also weak (r2 < 0.1). This seems to confirm the findings in (11, 12) — that higher general intelligence (but not necessarily academic performance and grades) is associated with night owls. (One paper claims that the linkage between the two may be men’s mating success—but we’ll leave that to another study (13)).
With wearables like UP by Jawbone and products like Smart Coach, we can take a unique look at sleep, which helps us make smarter predictions and recommendations for our users’ health than ever before.
This is only a survey of the available literature. A useful review of college student sleep health can be found in Eric Davidson’s 2012 PhD dissertation.
- Franklin C. Brown, Barlow Soper, Walter C. Buboltz. Prevalence of delayed sleep phase in university students. College Student Journal. 2001.
- Walter C. Buboltz, Franklin C. Brown, Barlow Soper. Sleep habits and patterns of college students: a preliminary study. Journal of American College Health. 2001.
- Eric S. Davidson. Predictors of sleep quantity and quality in college students. PhD dissertation. 2012.
- LeAnne M. Forquer, Adrian E. Camden, Krista M. Gabriau, C. Merle Johnson. Sleep patterns of college students at a public university. Journal of American College Health. 2008.
- J. Hawkins, P. Shaw. Self-reported sleep quality in college students: A repeated measures approach. Sleep. 1992.
- Hannah G. Lund et al. Sleep patterns and predictors of disturbed sleep in a large population of college students. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2010.
- Halszka Oginska, Janusz Pokorski. Fatigue and mood correlates of sleep length in three age-social groups: School children, students and employees. Chronobiology International. 2006.
- Kathryn M. Orzech, David B. Salafsky, Lee Ann Hamilton. The state of sleep among college students at a large public university. Journal of American College Health. 2011.
- June J. Pilcher, Elizabeth S. Ott. The relationships between sleep and measures of health and well-being in college students: A repeated measures approach. Behavioral Medicine. 1998.
- Pamela V. Thacher. University students and “The All Nighter”: Correlates and patterns of students’ engagement in a single night of total sleep deprivation. Behavioral Sleep Medicine. 2008.
- Juan Francisco Díaz-Morales, Cristina Escribano. Predicting school achievement: The role of inductive reasoning, sleep length, and morning-eveningness. Personality and Individual Differences. 2013.
- Satoshi Kanazawa and Kaja Perina. Why night owls are more intelligent. Personality and Individual Differences. 2009.
- Christoph Randler et al. Eveningness is related to men’s mating success. Personality and Individual Differences. 2012.
Technical Notes. All data is anonymized and treated in aggregate. The data is from 18,498 students at 137 schools who logged 1.44M nights of sleep with UP between 2013 and 2016. To be identified as a student at a university, UP wearers needed to be between the ages of 18 and 22 with syncs on campus in at least 3 months between September and June. To compute sleep averages by university, we computed the average sleep for men and women, then weighted them by the real gender distribution of the school. The total hours of sleep is only night sleep (not including naps), and removes time when UP classified students as awake lying in bed (this is why total hours is less than the waketime – bedtime). The fit between academic performance and bedtime was calculated leaving out the US military academies, since their sleep is clearly unique relative to other universities. Weeknights included sleep on the evenings of Sunday-Thursday, and weekends included the evenings of Friday and Saturday. The east coast military academies of West Point, Naval Academy, and Coast Guard were combined.
Thanks to Steve Knodel for the visual design. Also thanks to an eagle eyed reddit user who spotted an error in Rutgers’ US News ranking (72, not 140) and another who noted that Stony Brook SUNY was mislabeled as Binghamton SUNY.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
DIRECTOR, HEAD OF DATA SCIENCE AND ANALYTICS
Brian leads an engineering team building personalized health insights and coaching. At Jawbone, he makes data human. He coaches kids volleyball. He earned his PhD studying neuroscience and applied physics at Stanford (go Card), and before that, high-energy physics at CERN and MIT. Follow him @brianwilt.