Students' bad grades might be tied to class time

Students with circadian rhythms that are out of synch with their early class schedules might have lower grades from "social jet lag," a condition in which school time doesn't line up with alert time.

That was the finding of a new study out of the University of California Berkeley published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports. In their research, the team tracked the online activity of about 15,000 college students and sorted them into three categories - "night owls," "daytime finches" and morning larks" - based on the times they were most active outside of class.

The study found that students whose circadian rhythms were out of sync with their class schedules - like a night owl having an early class - had lower grades than their morning lark peers.

"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 of the study, Benjamin Smarr, told the Berkeley News.

Social jetlag is also connected to obesity and excessive alcohol and tobacco use, the study said.

"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," Smarr said. "Different people really do have biologically diverse timing, so there isn't a one-time-fits-all solution for education."

The researchers said that night owls should structure their class schedules to better fit their biological clocks to help improve their academic standing, and that parents and teachers shouldn't reprimand them for having a later rhythm.

"Rather than admonish late students to go to bed earlier, in conflict with their biological rhythms," Smarr said, "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."

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