APR 04, 2018 6:09 AM PDT

Sleep Cycles Can Influence Academic Performance

There are morning people who enjoy rising with the sun and getting an early start on their day. Others are night owls and stay up late, making early mornings difficult. A new study on individual biological rhythms and internal clocks suggests that for students, understanding which type they are and then tailoring their schedules to the time of day that works best for them could be a way to increase academic achievement.

The study was done by researchers at UC Berkeley and Northeastern Illinois University using data collected from 15,000 students via their campus servers. The team sorted the data based on the time of day students logged on to campus servers on days when they did not have classes to attend. They identified three separate categories naming them "Night Owls" for late night students, "Daytime Finches" for those who worked in the middle of the day and "Morning Larks" for the early birds who like getting up and getting at it.

They compared the habits of students with the times they had classes. Their findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports and found lower academic scores for those students whose use of campus servers was not in the same time slot as their classes, for example, night owl students who had early morning classes on their schedules. Their findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, calls the discrepancy between grades and preferred times to work a form of "social jet lag" because of the juxtaposition of school and work times and the natural preference of day or night in individual students

Study co-lead author Benjamin Smarr, a postdoctoral fellow who studies circadian rhythm disruptions in the lab of UC Berkeley psychology professor Lance Kriegsfeld, explained, "We found that the majority of students were being jet-lagged by their class times, which correlated very strongly with decreased academic performance" Co-lead author Aaron Schirmer, an assistant professor at Northeastern Illinois University added, "Our research indicates that if a student can structure a consistent schedule in which class days resemble non-class days, they are more likely to achieve academic success."

The researchers said that the night owl group was the most at risk for issues of academic performance and fatigue. It's not just the early morning class times that impacted this group. Staying up late often results in night owl students being chronically tired most of the day, simply because they don't get enough hours of sleep. These students might go to bed at 2 or 3 in the morning and have to be up for an 8 am class a few hours later. This isn't enough rest, regardless of any one student's natural circadian rhythm.

The study might be the largest look at the concept of social jet lag that uses real-time data. Nearly 15,000 students were a part of the research, which took place over two years, so the amount of data that was collected was enough to get an accurate picture of what individual sleep and wake patterns mean to real-world achievement.

About 40% of the students included were taking classes at times that were in harmony with their peak alertness. These students showed consistently higher GPAs than the 50% of students who were taking classes before they were alert enough to take on the day efficiently. The remaining 10% were scheduled for classes that started past their most alert time of day. Sleep patterns vary by gender and by age, and while most of the research on sleep and academic performance has focused on telling young people to go bed earlier, that isn't all there is to it. The researchers believe that approach is not as practical as encouraging students to understand their optimal biological rhythms and tailor their class selections to times when they are most productive. Check out the video to learn more.

Sources: Sources: UC Berkeley, Northeastern Illinois University, Scientific Reports

 

 

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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