TUESDAY, June 14 (HealthDay News) -- Sufficient sleep improves college students' ability to learn, a new study finds.

The study included 102 university undergraduate students who had never taken an economics course and were given an introductory lecture on supply and demand microeconomics. Those tested on the material after they got adequate sleep over a 12-hour period had better scores than those who took the test after being awake for 12 hours.

The findings show that sleep can help college students retain and integrate new information needed to solve problems on an exam.

"Our findings demonstrate the importance of sleep to the ability to flexibly combine distinct concepts to solve novel problems. This ability is critical to classroom learning," lead author Michael Scullin, a doctoral candidate in the Behavior, Brain and Cognition program at Washington University in St. Louis, said in an American Academy of Sleep Medicine news release.

The test the students took included two types of problems: "basic" problems, which they had been taught how to solve; and "transfer" problems, which relied on the students being able to solve novel, but related problems using their newly acquired knowledge of supply and demand.

"The most surprising finding of our study was that sleep, relative to an equal-length wake interval, benefited performance on the novel, 'transfer' integration problems without affecting performance on the basic, trained problems," Scullin said.

The study was to be presented Tuesday at SLEEP 2011, an Associated Professional Sleep Societies meeting in Minneapolis. Research presented at medical meetings is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

Harvard Medical School has more about sleep.