The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Information Retention and Retrieval Among Ethnic Minority College Students.

Published: 2023/07/05 Number of words: 1565

Sleep refers to a series of natural biological functions in human beings which is crucial for the sustenance and maintenance of health and wellbeing in individuals (Grandner et al., 2016). The relationship between good sleeping habits and good health including good academic performance has been reported by various studies (Elagra et al., 2016; Maheshwari & Shaukat, 2019; Wheaton et al., 2016). A good night’s sleep enables the body to rest, recharge and recover all the energy that had been depleted during daily activities. Good sleep is also extremely crucial for the brain to learn, retain and retrieve new information. While the body is relaxed or resting during sleep, new information gathered during the day is being processed by the brain and new memories are being formed (Walker, 2017; Noack et al., 2017). Previous studies have reported the impact of sleep deprivation on university students’ academic performance, however, other factors like religious or cultural practices and ethnicity issues that may be responsible for lack of sleep among a certain group of students have not been fully investigated. This present study, with the aid of a qualitative study, aims to investigate the effect of cultural, religious, and ethnic practices on sleeping patterns among ethnic minority university students.

The problem of sleeplessness or lack of sufficient sleep and other issues that accompanies it- like health problems and poor academic performance in the younger generation- is becoming more and more prevalent in society today. Studies have shown that the problem of sleeplessness or insufficient sleep is much higher in the adolescent years (Owens, 2014). Young people’s sleeping pattern has been reported to get worse and worse as they go through adolescence. Reports have shown that most adolescents sleep less than seven hours a day, whereas the recommended period of sleep if the body and the brain are to continue functioning properly, is between 8-10 hours daily (Knight, 2020; Quante et al., 2019).

In a study conducted among 55,322 university students, it was reported that students who do not get sufficient sleep every night of the week are likely to have a .02 drop in their GPA (Hartmann & Prichard, 2018). The study also reported that such students’ chances of dropping out of a university programme go up by around 10 per cent. This study further revealed that the consequences of sleep deprivation are much higher than the impact of drug use, drinking and stress in students (Hartmann & Prichard, 2018).  Other studies have attributed the inability of students to get enough sleep to factors like abounding social opportunities or social engagements in colleges and universities (Smarr, 2015).

Another factor that has been deemed to be responsible for insufficient sleep among university or college students is the study pressure they face in institutions of higher learning (Smarr, 2015).  However, other studies have debunked these claims. Such studies argued that students’ ability to thrive in universities and colleges is not dependent on how much they pull an all-nighter, but how efficiently students can manage their time to study but also get enough rest by sleeping sufficiently (Blum, 2016; Hershner, 2020). These studies have reported that smart students are not necessarily those who stay up late and are sleep deprived all in the name of studying, but those who study but also get sufficient sleep (Gomes et al., 2011).  A study among university students revealed that most students who stay up late to cram information for a test or exam usually find that what they have crammed late in the night may not be fully retrievable by their brain when they need the information, perhaps during a test or an examination (Mayow, 2015). This may be because their brain is already overworked and foggy.

While factors like social opportunities or engagements, study pressure, age or gender among other factors have been reported as being responsible for sleeplessness among university students, other issues that may be peculiar to a certain group of students are yet to be investigated fully. These issues may include religious or cultural practices and racial or ethnic issues. Ethnic minority adolescents sleep deprivation issues may be related to factors like cultural practices, religious practices, and socioeconomic status. All these factors may hinder university students’ ability to get sufficient sleep and may impact their academic performance as well.

Grandner et al (2016) in their report stated that certain behaviours and practices those individuals engage in could be a determining factor of the quantity and quality of sleep that they get. The report suggested that issues relating to race or ethnicity as well as socioeconomic status of individuals affect their ability to engage in normal and crucial biological functions like sleep. Serious health issues such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes among ethnic minorities have also been associated with insufficient sleep or irregular sleep patterns (Grandner et al., 2016). The report further stated that exposure to certain neighbourhood’s practices may also affect minority ethnic groups’ ability to get sufficient sleep that the body requires for proper functioning. Such neighbourhoods or environmental factors include social factors like cultural norms on health behaviour, psychological factors like the safety of the neighbourhoods and peculiar neighbourhood experiences like discrimination. Another neighbourhood factor identified in the report is physical factors like exposure to air, toxin or noise pollution as well as lack of access to healthy meals. The study concluded that many ethnic minorities, especially young adolescents are sleep deprived due to various factors that had been highlighted. The consequences of sleep deprivation for ethnic minority groups, especially among young adolescents in colleges, are academic underachievement and health issues among others. This is so because lack of sufficient sleep has been associated with various health issues and lack of focus and concentration, hence academic underachievement.

The importance of getting recommended quality and quantity of sleep cannot be overemphasised. Many issues ranging from health issues and poor academic performance have been associated with sleep deprivation. Many studies have established that most college students are sleep deprived. Either they are not getting the recommended daily hours of sleep required by the body for effective functioning, or their quality or pattern of sleep is compromised. This is especially so for students from ethnic minority groups who may have certain peculiar issues like cultural norms and social-economic status to grapple with. Some college students in a bid to make ends meet commit hours to work in which they ought to be resting or sleeping. It has become paramount that more awareness needs to be raised among college students generally about the importance of getting recommended hours of quality sleep and how this may also affect their academic performance as well as their health and wellbeing.


Blum, D. (2016). Sleep Wise: How to Feel Better, Work Smarter, and Build Resilience. Parallax Press.

Elagra, M. I., Rayyan, M. R., Alnemer, O. A., Alshehri, M. S., Alsaffar, N. S., Al-Habib, R. S., & Almosajen, Z. A. (2016). Sleep quality among dental students and its association with academic performance. Journal of International Society of Preventive & Community Dentistry, 6(4), 296.

Grandner, M. A., Williams, N. J., Knutson, K. L., Roberts, D., & Jean-Louis, G. (2016). Sleep disparity, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic position. Sleep medicine18, 7-18.

Gibbs, G. (2011) Analysing Qualitative Data London, UK: Sage Publications

Gomes, A. A., Tavares, J., & de Azevedo, M. H. P. (2011). Sleep and academic performance in undergraduates: a multi-measure, multi-predictor approach. Chronobiology International, 28(9), 786-801.

Guest, G., Bunce, A., & Johnson, L. (2006). How Many Interviews Are Enough? An Experiment with Data Saturation and Variability. Field Methods, 18(1), 59–82. doi:10.1177/1525822X05279903

Hartmann, M. E., & Prichard, J. R. (2018). Calculating the contribution of sleep problems to undergraduates’ academic success. Sleep Health, 4(5), 463-471.

Hershner, S. (2020). Sleep and academic performance: Measuring the impact of sleep. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 33, 51-56.

Knight, F. L. C. (2020). Sleepy teens in the classroom. In The ‘BrainCanDo’ Handbook of Teaching and Learning (pp. 163-182). David Fulton Publishers.

Kvale, Steinar (1983). The qualitative research interview: A phenomenological and hermeneutical mode of understanding. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 14, 171-196.

Maheshwari, G., & Shaukat, F. (2019). Impact of poor sleep quality on the academic performance of medical students. Cureus, 11(4).

Mayow, H. (2015A) Sleep Deprivation and Brain Function: How does sleep deprivation affect college students’ ability to retain information and create memories? Noack, H., Schick, W., Mallot, H., & Born, J. (2017). Sleep enhances knowledge of routes and regions in spatial environments. Learning & Memory, 24(3), 140-144.

Miller, M. A., Wright, H., Hough, J., & Cappuccio, F. P. (2014). Sleep and cognition. Sleep and its disorders affect society. IntechOpen.

Owens, J., & Adolescent Sleep Working Group. (2014). Insufficient sleep-in adolescents and young adults: an update on causes and consequences. Paediatrics, 134(3), e921-e932.

Quante, M., Khandpur, N., Kontos, E. Z., Bakker, J. P., Owens, J. A., & Redline, S. (2019). “Let’s talk about sleep”: a qualitative examination of levers for promoting healthy sleep among sleep-deprived vulnerable adolescents. Sleep medicine, 60, 81-88.

Ritchie, Jane; Lewis, Jane & Elam, Gillian (2003). Designing and selecting samples. In Jane Ritchie & Jane Lewis (Eds.), Qualitative research practice. A guide for social science students and researchers (pp.77-108) Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Silverman, D. (2011) Qualitative Research London, UK: Sage Publications

Smarr, B. L. (2015). Digital sleep logs reveal potential impacts of modern temporal structure on class performance in different chronotypes. Journal of biological rhythms, 30(1), 61-67.

Walker, M. (2017). Why we sleep: Unlocking the power of sleep and dreams. Simon and Schuster.

Wheaton, A. G., Chapman, D. P., & Croft, J. B. (2016). School start times, sleep, behavioural, health, and academic outcomes: a review of the literature. Journal of School Health, 86(5), 363-381.


Cite this page

Choose cite format:
Online Chat Messenger Email
+44 800 520 0055