According to a new study from UC Berkeley and Northeastern Illinois University, a student's biological clock has an important role in his academic achievement. Researchers tracked the personal daily online activity profiles of nearly 15,000 college students as they logged into campus servers.
After sorting the students into "night owls," "daytime finches" and "morning larks" -- based on their activities on days they were not in class -- researchers compared their class times to their academic outcomes.
Their findings, published today in the journal Scientific Reports, show that students whose circadian rhythms were out of sync with their class schedules - say, night owls taking early morning courses - received lower grades due to "social jet lag," a condition in which peak alertness times are at odds with work, school or other demands.
"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 who studies circadian rhythm disruptions in the lab of UC Berkeley psychology professor Lance Kriegsfeld.
On a positive note: "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 study co-lead author Aaron Schirmer, an associate professor of biology at Northeastern Illinois University.
While students of all categories suffered from class-induced jet lag, the study found that night owls were especially vulnerable, many appearing so chronically jet-lagged that they were unable to perform optimally at any time of day.
In what is thought to be the largest-ever survey of social jet lag using real-world data, Smarr and Schirmer analyzed the online activity of 14,894 Northeastern Illinois University students as they logged in and out of the campus's learning management system over two years.
Finding these patterns reflected in students' login data spurred researchers to investigate whether digital records might also reflect the biological rhythms underlying people's behavior.