A mismatch between a college student’s class schedule and natural body clock can cause a type of “jet lag” and worse grades, a new study reports.
Night owls with morning classes suffer the most, researchers concluded after comparing class times and grades of nearly 15,000 students.
“We found that the majority of students were being jet-lagged by their class times, which correlated very strongly with decreased academic performance,” said study co-lead author Benjamin Smarr, a postdoctoral fellow at University of California, Berkeley.
Researchers categorized the students as either “night owls,” “daytime finches” or “morning larks.”
Those whose biological clocks (circadian rhythms) were out of sync with class times — for example, a night owl in an early morning course — had lower grades, the study found.
This may have been due to what the researchers called “social jet lag,” which refers to a person’s times of peak alertness being at odds with school, work or other schedules.
Social jet lag occurred in all three categories of students, but many night owls had such severe jet lag that they couldn’t perform at their best at any time of day, the researchers said.
The findings can’t prove cause and effect. Still, they suggest that “rather than admonish late students to go to bed earlier, in conflict with their biological rhythms, we should work to individualize education so that learning and classes are structured to take advantage of knowing what time of day a given student will be most capable of learning,” Smarr said in a university news release.
The study was published recently in the journal Scientific Reports.
“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,” said co-lead author Aaron Schirmer, an associate professor of biology at Northeastern Illinois University.
Previous research has linked social jet leg with obesity and heavy alcohol and tobacco use, the researchers said.
The U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has more on circadian rhythms.