According To Science, Students Learn Best Later In The Day

Brilliance | Dec. 08, 2017

Every time your alarm goes off in the morning, you curse the day you signed up for an 8 a.m. class. Why must geography start so early? Why?! According to an April 2017 study, it's not just you—early-morning classes have a negative impact on students in general. Sorry teachers: it's science.

Night Owls, Unite

First, the researchers surveyed 190 college freshmen and sophomores to determine their chronotype—that is, whether they were morning people or night owls.  They discovered that night owls way outnumber early birds in college students. This may not come as a surprise to many, but the idea is backed by biology—the body clock of teens and 20-somethings are set at a different time than the older population. For the second part of the study, they used previous research on this particular teen body-clock phenomenon—"adolescent circadian timings," as they put it—to create a theoretical model that determined a range of ideal class start times. The earliest start time they found to suit the sleep needs of students? 11:27 a.m. Not exactly the crack of dawn, is it?

Of course, early birds do exist on college campuses. For this reason, co-author Jonathan Kelley tells NPR that "83 percent of students could be at their best performance if colleges allowed them to choose their own ideal starting time for a regular six-hour day." He also notes that while one size doesn't fit all, the ideal start time for most students would be 10 or 11 a.m.

Learning Ain't Easy

College kids aren't the only ones having their education curtailed by lack of sleep. Several studies have shown that later start times would positively affect both the academic performance and overall health of middle-school and high-school students. As Kelley emphasizes to NPR, "It has nothing to do with laziness. It's not in their control. It's to do with their bodies." Let's help students learn to their highest potential.

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