Tawa College Level 3 - Sleep Deprivation Experiment

A teacher's perspective

At the beginning of the year the main question driving our planning was this: “What will our year 13’s want to study?” They always talk about how they don’t get enough sleep. We know that teenager’s circadian rhythms are a little funky. And we know that AS 3.1 requires students to conduct a piece of psychological research. I can’t entirely remember how the idea came up, we must have had too much coffee, but we thought “what about a study about sleep deprivation?” When they heard the words “sleepover”, “midnight feast” and “Friday off school”, the students were in. All 100 of them.


On a Thursday early in Term 1, a hundred and three year 13 Psychology students were instructed to wake up at 7am. They spent psychology class finalising their experiment packs. Under the umbrella of “What is the psychological impact of 24 hours without sleep?” students chose their own dependent variables: IQ scores, heart rate, reaction speed, happiness scores, social skills, and skin conductance. We met at the Gym at 9pm that evening for a briefing session - rules, procedures, and so on. We were not leaving school grounds until 7am Friday morning. There would be snacks and games provided. Pizza at 12.30am. Dodgeball at 3am. And most importantly, at three hourly intervals (9pm, 12am, 3am and 6am) group leaders must come and collect an assessment pack, administer the tests to their group, and return the data collection sheets to the office where Sam and I were furiously entering the results into excel. To skip to the results, it turns out that after 24 hours without sleep teenagers report significantly decreased happiness and sociability levels. IQ scores, heart rate and skin conductance were not significantly affected while reaction speed got slightly faster. At 7am the next morning our blurry-eyed students signed out, were picked up by parents, and taken home to recover. Over the next two weeks we taught students how to write a complete lab report on their study.


​Like any school event, there was a plethora of safety measures to consider:

- Informed consent was gained from parents

- Students were not allowed to drive home on Friday morning

- Students were not expected at school on Friday

- Designated sleeping rooms were provided for those who wanted to withdraw

- Out of bounds areas were clearly marked with “caution” tape

- Two extra teachers helped us so we could rotate supervision. They happened to be Year 13 deans which helped provide some authority.

- Dietary and medical needs were recorded

- Group leaders provided cell phone numbers and the teachers were on constant roaming supervision

- Classrooms had designated activities (e.g. table tennis; giant jenga) including 2 “chill out rooms”


It was a hugely exhausting night, but I highly doubt the students involved will ever forget the research skills gained. What’s an extraneous variable? “Oh, like when some people decided to drink coffee!” What does it mean to have the Right to Withdraw? “Like how we had designated sleeping rooms if we decided to give up.” - Rebecca Roche , Teacher of Psychology, Tawa College


A student's perspective

Certain psychology experiments will go down in history. The Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971. The Yale Milgram experiments of the 1960's. And this year, the Tawa College 2017 Sleep Deprivation Study.

How will 24 hours of sleep deprivation affect 103 teenagers full of pizza, sugar and coffee? Will they live up to their claims that 24 hours without sleep is a piece of cake? Or will everything fall apart at 3am?

The Tawa College 2017 Sleep Deprivation Study took place on Thursday the 2nd of March, 103 Year 13 Psychology students stayed awake for 24 hours for the sake of psychological science. The purpose of the study was to further scientific knowledge of the effects of sleep deprivation on senior high school students.


There was a past study done in 1965 on Randy Gardner who set the world record for staying awake at 11 days. As teenagers often report feeling sleep deprived, we wanted to find out if science has anything to say about the situation. From this curiosity we crafted an experiment to see if just ONE night sleep deprivation would have any effect on students happiness, IQ, reaction speed, and social skills.

On the day of the experiment, we met in the gym at 9pm and then stayed awake all night until 7am the next day, as the school staff were arriving at school our participants, exhausted and pyjama'd year 13 students were sprawled on the floor of B block hallway.


I would like to thank all the students who took part and also the teachers who gave up their time to let us run this experiment. - Shout out to Mrs Lorenzen who volunteered to help and stayed up all night doing data entry Also Mr Parazda who ran 2am basketball and 4am dodgeball. Finally shout out to Miss Roche's who did a little mid night pizza run to pick up 40 pizzas.


Sadly there was a wide range of confounding variables in our experiment which would need to be changed in order to make it a valid experiment. While the experiment may have failed with results, in my opinion the experiment was a success. We had lots of fun and laughter until about 3am when everyone got very grumpy and the validity of the experiments dropped drastically as no one wanted to complete them anymore but it was still hilarious. I highly recommend psychology as a subject and future years should attempt this study again. - Jack Harriss Level 3 Psychology student.

1 view0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Developing our capacity in Matauranga Maori We are looking for your help. Western Psychology and Matauranga Maori have, historically, been miles apart and Western Psychology has dominated the discours

A message from NZAPT Chair Sam Dudek Congratulations to all of you who introduced Psychology into your school in 2021. There is no doubt that Psychology is an incredibly popular area of study with bo

Our 2021 Conference looks a little different to usual! Kia ora koutou, Your conference has come to you via the courier this year as a small token of our appreciation for your hard work and enthusiasm