Higher Education


Why Burning the Midnight Oil is Bad for Students

By Michael Dunlop
May 13, 2022

The ‘college student pulling an all-nighter before a big deadline’ scenario is so commonplace that it should be part of the university brochure. Whether it be due to extreme procrastination or mere forgetfulness, burning the midnight oil is a practice that isn’t like to stop anytime soon. According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, an average of 68% are awake during the night, 20% of them at least once a week. This is a damning statistic as the study found that students with poor sleep patterns are more likely to achieve lower grades and drop out of education.

Timing of sleep is just as important as the number of hours slept, so students need to make sure they are establishing a sleep schedule and going to bed at the same time every night.

Lower Grade Point Averages

The whole point of staying up late to study is so that you earn better grades and succeed in your classes. However, irregular patterns of sleep and staying up late are associated with lower grade point averages.

This means students might actually end up doing worse in school when they are spending every day up late studying rather than catching up on lost sleep. This also applies to students that spend more time sleeping during the day than at night.

Students need to make sure they are spending the daylight hours studying or being active and then spending the night hours sleeping and resting to prepare for the next day.

Sporadic Levels of Melatonin

Melatonin is responsible for making sure you sleep and get enough rest to make you feel fueled and ready to work and study. During sleep time and waking times, the body will have different levels of melatonin.

When someone has regular patterns of sleeping and activity, the body will also release melatonin at the correct times. If students are not sleeping well or not sleeping at the same time every day, their bodies will not know when to release melatonin and when to stop the release.

This means students’ bodies might release melatonin when they should be stopping it. This might cause them to feel excessively sleeping during the day such as during class or exams when they should be awake and not concentrating.

Misalignment of Circadian System

Circadian rhythms are in charge of keeping your body on schedule. It’s also sensitive to patterns of light exposure, which is why students should try to sleep at night and stay awake during the night.

Extra Stress on the Body

When you are not getting good sleep quality, you are also causing unnecessary stress on your body. People who do not sleep well might also start to adopt other unhealthy behaviors to try and keep themselves awake during the night such as illegal medication or drug use.

It’s Not Necessary

You might think you have to stay up late to study because every college student is doing it or you feel like you have to do it to achieve the best grades. Burning the midnight oil is not necessary though for everyone.

If you adopt good sleeping patterns from the beginning and put yourself on a schedule of waking and sleeping from your first semester of school you should be able to carry on with that schedule through your college career even when extra studying is needed. You can also have a dedicated study space.

The use of apps

There are a range of apps and resources out there which can help people, students specifically, in getting enough hours of sleep whilst keeping on top of their workload. The popular apps among students right now include Calm and Headspace, both of which focus on helping students with anxiety and stress through meditation and learnt techniques. More sleep specific apps like Sleep Cycle work to inform users more about their sleep cycles, helping them understand how much sleep is important to them. According to the Sleep Cycle, the app has been downloaded by 37.4 million people worldwide, as of 2019. College can be an isolating experience for a lot of young people, but modern tech has shown that support is out there.

Pulling all-nighters can be tempting for students, but sleep is important and even integral to academic performance.

Featured image: Prostock-Studio, iStock.