Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Why "social jet lag" may cause worse grades and poor work performance

A study finds the link between biological clocks and poor performance at school and work.

A pupil concentrates in a classroom at the Europeen school of Strasbourg, eastern France, on September 4, 2012, after the start of the new school year. (Photo credit: FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/GettyImages)

If you always felt that the world's against you with its unreasonably early start times, there’s a new study that says just that. Researchers found that the biological clocks of students are often at odds with class schedules, resulting in worse academic performance. 


By tracking two years worth of daily online activity for around 15,000 college students from Northeastern Illinois University, who made 3.4 million logins into college servers, the scientists were able to sort students into “night owls,” “daytimes finches,” and “morning larks.” These groupings were based on the activities of the students on their days off from school. Having established such divisions, the researchers correlated the times their classes started with the grades they received. 

 

What the study revealed is that whenever the circadian rhythms of the students were out of alignment with the start times of their classes, they got worse grades. An example of this would be night owls taking classes in the morning. The condition that precipitates this outcome is “social jet lag” (SJL) which occurs when the times of peak alertness do not match the demands of school, everyday life or work. 

The study was co-authored by Benjamin L. Smarr, a postdoctoral student from UC Berkeley, and Aaron Schirmer, an associate professor of biology at Northeastern Illinois University. 

“We found that the majority of students were being jet-lagged by their class times, which correlated very strongly with decreased academic performance,” said Smarr.

The chart shows that owls have a grade disadvantage at different times of the day. Credit: Benjamin Smarr.

Night owls were found to be at a particular disadvantage due to the early class times. And what's more - the owls seem to be chronically jet-lagged and unable to do their best at any point of the day. Larks and finches also had their issues, not doing as well in classes that start later.

On the other hand, if there’s a choice in the matter, a student may use this knowledge to devise a schedule that works best for them. Those who were more in sync with their class times had higher GPAs.

“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,” explained professor Schirmer.

Another way to look at the study is to conclude that there is no solution that would work for every person as people have different biological clocks. As such, the report urges educators to take this issue into account when creating class schedules.  

And in a statement that can surely go up on the wall of many a student trying not to go to bed when their parents tell them, Starr said 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.”

You can read the new study in Scientific Reports.

 

Live tomorrow! Unfiltered lessons of a female entrepreneur

Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT tomorrow.

Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

Keep reading Show less

Improving Olympic performance with asthma drugs?

A study looks at the performance benefits delivered by asthma drugs when they're taken by athletes who don't have asthma.

Image source: sumroeng chinnapan/Shutterstock
Culture & Religion
  • One on hand, the most common health condition among Olympic athletes is asthma. On the other, asthmatic athletes regularly outperform their non-asthmatic counterparts.
  • A new study assesses the performance-enhancement effects of asthma medication for non-asthmatics.
  • The analysis looks at the effects of both allowed and banned asthma medications.

Keep reading Show less

Weird science shows unseemly way beetles escape after being eaten

Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.

R. attenuata escaping from a black-spotted pond frog.

Surprising Science
  • A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
  • The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
  • Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
Keep reading Show less
Mind & Brain

Why are we fascinated by true crime stories?

Several experts have weighed in on our sometimes morbid curiosity and fascination with true crime.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast