A trend study found that adolescents in Norway had poor academic performance in science and math when they were sleep deprived.
Young people’s sleep patterns have changed worldwide in recent years, leading investigators to assess the relationship between sleep and academic performance in Norway, where a negative trend in academic achievement in math and science was reported alongside the shift in sleep patterns. A study published in BMC Public Health found that there was an association between sleep deficits and academic performance in math and science specifically.
The study used data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) from 2015 and 2019. The sample includes Norwegian ninth grade students and their mathematics and science teachers who participated in TIMSS. The TIMSS measures mathematics and science competence in Norwegian grades 5 and 9 and also includes information collected from students and teachers through questionnaires.
Teachers were asked how much they felt that students suffering from not enough sleep were limiting their ability to teach the class. Students were asked how often they felt sleepy when they arrived at school in the 2019 data.
Teachers’ reports of changes in the way students’ lack of sleep affected their ability to teach were compared from 2015 to 2019. In 2015, 37.8% of science teachers reported that students’ sleepiness did not affect their ability to teach. This decreased to 23.6% in 2019. There were also 10% fewer math teachers who reported sleep deficit as an issue in 2015 compared with 2019.
The researchers found that sleepiness affected mathematics and science achievements significantly. An increase of 8 score points in math was associated with students’ reports of being less sleepy, equivalent to a little less than half of a year of schooling in Norway. Feeling sleepy was also associated with a decrease of 5 score points in science academic performance.
Sleep deficits reported by teachers were also found to be associated with math and science performance. An increase in sleep deficit was associated with a decrease of 10 score points in math in 2015 and 9 score points in 2019. Similar results were found with performance in science, with a sleep deficit associated with a decrease in approximately 10 score points in 2015 and approximately 6 score points in 2019.
The trend analyses found that the effect of time on science and math achievement was 13.01 and 8.42 score points, respectively, from 2015 to 2019.
There were some limitations to this study. Students were not asked about sleepiness in 2015. Teachers were not asked if their students had had enough sleep but instead were asked if their sleepiness limited their ability to teach, making it an indirect measure. A scale with several items measuring sleep deficit and sleepiness would have been ideal but was not used for this study. The questions regarding sleep were focused on quantity rather than quality of sleep.
The researchers concluded that there has been an increase in sleep deficits in students from Norway from 2015 to 2019. There was a negative association between sleep deficits and performance in math and science, with performance decreasing from 2015 to 2019 due to an increase in sleep deficits.
Vik FN, Nilsen T, Overby NC. Associations between sleep deficit and academic achievement – triangulation across time and subject domains among students and teachers in TIMSS in Norway. BMC Public Health. 2022;22:1790. doi:10.1186/s12889-022-14161-1