An analysis of survey data collected between 2000 and 2020 as part of the National College Health Assessment found that underrepresented minority groups experienced greater sleep disparities compared with other students, contributing to an academic achievement gap.
Researchers reviewed survey results from 1.9 million college students collected over 20 years to determine race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, GPA, daytime sleepiness and sleep health. Underrepresented minority students reported fewer days per week that they felt rested and worse sleep problem scores. They also had lower GPAs than other students. While socioeconomic status partially mediated the relationship between race/ethnicity and academic achievement, sleep problems and feeling rested continued to explain significant variance even when controlling for socioeconomic status.
“Academic achievement gaps were initially documented in the 1960s, and we are still finding evidence for these gaps today,” said lead author Allison Nickel, who has a doctorate in experimental psychology and is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Lab at Baylor University. “Further, we found that sleep problems are contributing to these differences in achievement, along with socioeconomic factors, mental health, and other influences.”
Nickel hopes her findings will prompt the implementation of university-wide sleep health programs to remove a barrier to academic achievement. She said such a program could have other benefits as well.
“Sleep problems are modifiable,” she said. “The field needs randomized controlled trials aimed at reducing sleep disparities to determine if that can reduce academic achievement gaps.”
Nickel’s study was supported by the National Science Foundation. The research abstract was published recently in an online supplement of the journal Sleep and will be presented June 6 and 7 during SLEEP 2022. SLEEP is the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, a joint venture of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society.