Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 42, Issue 5, pp 671–681 | Cite as

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

  • Rachel Campbell
  • Bart Soenens
  • Wim Beyers
  • Maarten Vansteenkiste
Original Paper


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.


Self-determination theory Basic psychological needs Sleep University students Stress 



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

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachel Campbell
    • 1
  • Bart Soenens
    • 1
  • Wim Beyers
    • 1
  • Maarten Vansteenkiste
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Developmental, Social, and Personality Psychology, Faculty of PsychologyGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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