Lifestyle News

Sleep vs Productivity: Should I stay up to finish this assignment?

The age-old question--or necessity--should I stay up to finish this assignment?

Story by Ianna Chia, Graphics by Samara Gan

The age-old question–or necessity–should I stay up to finish this assignment?

It’s not uncommon to hear of students in university pulling an all-nighter. In fact, it would be much more surprising to find a college student who has gone through all four years not having had to pull one.

Yet, we often forget that sleep is an extremely important resource for us. Ironically, pulling an all-nighter to finish a set of readings could actually be detrimental to our results in the long run.

Year 2 Life Sciences student Anita Peng recalled an instance of an all-nighter in her freshman year, where she “retained almost zero information and felt like (she) was living a fever dream” the next day.

Curious to find out more, we decided to conduct a survey on sleeping habits of our fellow USPeeps.

Out of the 78 respondents, USP students get a mean of 5.96 hours of sleep a night. Hours range from 3 to as much as 10.


Figure 1: Most go to bed between 1am and 3am

These hours of sleep, however, are distributed quite differently. The usual times which people went to bed ranged from 10pm to 4.30am. Majority of people went to bed rather late, reporting that they went to bed between 1 to 3am. The range of waking times was also quite wide. The earliest timing from the survey was  6am and the latest was 2pm. It is worth noting that people who slept later tend to wake up later as well, with times ranging from 9am to 2pm.

Despite this, most respondents reported that they wanted to get more sleep, with majority wishing to score the golden 8 hours a night, which is commonly accepted as the  recommended number of hours per night.

Gerrie Chua (Year 4, English Literature) wishes she could get 7 hours of sleep per night. She said that it’s “usually attainable during the more manageable parts of the semester”, but isn’t able to get this number all the time. “I don’t get said number usually because I try to make time for leisure and study and friends, and I have a bad habit of just scrolling my phone a lot before going to bed.”

Most of us are guilty of these actions, procrastinating on sleep through catching up on our social media feeds and sacrificing our sleep for fear of missing out from events and gatherings.

The times in which people went to bed and woke up were also quite varied. The most common sleeping times are between 1am and 3am, but some sleep as early as 10pm, some as late as 4.30am. The most common morning calls are between 8am and 10am, with the earliest waking up at 6am and the latest and 2pm.

Figure 2: Most people wake up between 8am and 10am.

It is worth noting that those who slept by 4am and 4.30am woke up at different times, ranging from 9am, 10am, 1.30pm, to 2pm. These year group of the students vary; based on the limited information we have, there is no correlation between sleep-and-wake-times and students’ year in college.

28% (29 respondents) of the poll’s respondents usually get 6 hours of sleep (Figure 3), and most people (37 respondents) wish to get 8 hours of sleep a night (Figure 4).

Figure 3: Most people get 6 or 7 hours of sleep every night.
Figure 4: Most people wish to get 8 hours or more of sleep every night.

84.5% of the poll’s respondents find themselves to be productive when they sacrifice sleep for work, with ratings of 3 and above (Figure 5). This is a large majority, and it seems that sacrificing sleep for work is productive. Chik Cheng Yao, a Year 1 Computing major said that his productivity doesn’t increase at certain times of the day. He added: “…but if it’s midnight and I feel productive, then I’ll stay up longer to take advantage of my productivity.”

He did point out that while staying up to complete work is productive, there comes a point where productivity dips.

“I did all-nighters once or twice in my first semester. It was definitely less productive than doing work at more normal hours, around half the speed, and the quality took a hit as well,” said Cheng Yao.

Figure 5: A total of 84.5% of respondents think staying up late or waking up early to get work done is productive.

In general, students tend to find the consequences of all-nighters rather painful.

For Ritwik Jha (Year 1, Mechanical Engineering), who gets an average of 6 to 7 hours of sleep a night, poor sleep sometimes leads to him being tired during the day or having trouble staying awake in lecture.

While he has not pulled an all-nighter before, he recalled a night where he only had “three hours of sleep due to assignments”, and had to “sleep much longer to recover”.

Anita Peng (Year 2, Life Sciences) said that she would need coffee and naps to recover from a lack of sleep. “These naps usually take up around 2 hours, so it’s a little disruptive to my studying”, she said.

Pulling all-nighters also tends to affect us mentally. Anita recalled an all-nighter from when she was a freshman, saying that she “retained almost zero information and felt like (she) was living a fever dream”.

Gerrie said: “I feel like bad sleep just leads to this state of disorientation for me, when I just don’t remember where I’m supposed to be going or what I wanted to do.”

Haqeem Zulkifli (Year 3, Economics), has the same line of thought. While he gets an average of 6 hours of sleep per night, he stated that poor sleep leads to him “being sleepy all the time”. He attributed this to occasional all-nighters, saying he might sleep “anywhere from 12am to 4am”.

Studies have shown that sacrificing sleep for work is often not ideal and compromises our well-being and future. A study titled Sleep and Psychological Well-Being found that subjects who had between 6 to 8.5 hours of sleep were less likely to develop symptoms of depression and anxiety, while showing better mastery in relationships with others and personal growth.

Following the same line of thought, this year’s Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young for their discoveries about our body clocks and how they are linked to the earth’s revolutions.

Image taken from a press release from The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska InstitutetIllustrator: Mattias Karlén

These studies on sleep are not entirely conclusive; they vary in results about burnout, memory, performance, and productivity at different times of the day. Despite this, there are common results that point to the aspects of poor performance and mood among most studies on sleep.
Alternatively, sleep patterns such as biphasic sleep (5-6 hours in the evening, 1-1.5 hours in the afternoon) might increase productivity rather than sleeping 7 to 8 hours at once. Year 4 Engine Science student, Tham Jun Han’s USPolymath talk last semester explains more about this sleep pattern.

Regardless which sleep cycle you adopt, the main message is still clear: getting a healthy amount of sleep every night is important not just to your well-being, but also to your productivity.

So the next time you stay up late for an assignment, you might actually want to put it off till tomorrow, and getting a good night’s sleep instead.

For a summary of our survey findings, you can refer to the infographic below.

Sleep vs Productivity (1).png

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