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University students’ sleep during an exam period: the role of basic psychological needs and stress

Abstract

During exam periods university students are at risk for poor sleep. To understand variability in this vulnerability for poor sleep, the role of the satisfaction of the basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness was examined by assessing university students (N = 121; 78% female; Mage = 21.69, SD = 1.39, range 19–25) before, during, and after an exam period. Need-based and sleep-related functioning deteriorated during the exam period and then improved after the exam period. As need satisfaction decreased (i.e., from pre-exam to exam period) sleep quality, sleep quantity and daytime functioning deteriorated, while subsequent increases in need satisfaction (i.e., from exam to the post-exam period) were accompanied by improvements in sleep quality and daytime functioning. These correlated changes in need-based experiences and the sleep-related outcomes were largely accounted for by changes in stress, suggesting that stress may play an explanatory role in these associations.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    As shown in Table 2 in the supplementary file all three separate needs (i.e., for autonomy, competence and relatedness) displayed similar relations with the study variables. Furthermore, repeated measures ANOVA’s revealed that each of the three needs displayed a significant quadratic trend across the three time points [autonomy: F(1,86) = 89.02, p < .001, η2 = 0.51; competence: F(1,86) = 45.48, p < .001, η2 = 0.35; relatedness: F(1,86) = 8.62, p = .004, η2 = 0.09].

  2. 2.

    As shown in Table 2 some caution is needed when interpreting the covariation between need satisfaction and both sleep quality (across both transitions) and sleep quantity (from the pre- to the exam period) because they became non-significant after correcting for multiple testing. As such, these findings are in need of replication.

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Funding

This study was funded by the Fund for Scientific Research Flanders (FWO.OPR.2013. 0140.01 – IV2).

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Correspondence to Rachel Campbell.

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Campbell, R., Soenens, B., Beyers, W. et al. University students’ sleep during an exam period: the role of basic psychological needs and stress. Motiv Emot 42, 671–681 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-018-9699-x

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Keywords

  • Self-determination theory
  • Basic psychological needs
  • Sleep
  • University students
  • Stress