New U.S. research suggests that students’ academic excellence can suffer if their class schedules don’t align with their biological clocks.
Conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and Northeastern Illinois University, the study is thought to be the largest-ever survey of social jet lag utilizing real-world data.
Social jet lag is due to inconsistency between activity and the body’s natural biological rhythm – like starting work or classes very early, when you’re not at peak alertness or wakefulness. This misalignment has been associated to health conditions like obesity, depression, and alcohol use.
The study examined the daily online activity of 14,894 Northeastern Illinois University students who logged in and out of the campus server over a two-year period. The students were divided into three groups – “night owls,” “daytime finches” or “morning larks”. The researchers then compared the students’ class schedules to their academic performance.
Results showed that the majority of students who had class schedules not in tune with their biological clock – like night owls taking morning classes – resulted in lower grades thanks to social jet lag.
50 per cent of students were taking classes before they were fully alert; another 10 per cent had already peaked in alertness before the classes started; the final 40 per cent that were mostly in sync, resulting in better academic performance and higher GPAs.
“Because owls are later and classes tend to be earlier, this mismatch hits owls the hardest, but we see larks and finches taking later classes and also suffering from the mismatch,” said co-lead author Benjamin Smarr. “Different people really do have biologically diverse timing, so there isn’t a one-time-fits-all solution for education.”
Study co-lead author Aaron Schirmer 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.”
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