A large study has found a correlation that university students might find interesting: early morning classes are correlated with poorer academic performance in students who take them.
The study aimed to test whether classes early in the morning were more poorly attended than classes at a less rude time, and whether the classes had an effect on the students' sleep and academic performance.
The team were able to estimate attendance of classes by looking at login data to university WiFi networks by 23,391 students, finding that 8:00 am classes had around a 10 percentage point lower attendance than classes later in the day.
Actigraphy data was also collected from 181 students as part of a six week study. Looking at the data for these students, they were able to know whether they were asleep during the time of their class, or woke up too late to get to their class according to their self-reported travel time.
"Students did not wake up in time for nearly one-third of classes that took place at 08:00, whereas they rarely slept past the start of classes that began at noon or later," the team wrote in the study.
Next, the team explored the effect of early classes on students' sleep, by looking at logins by 39,458 students to their learning management system. Using the data, they were able to estimate wake up times, which lined up well with actigraphy data collected from the smaller group of 181 students.
"Students went to bed at around the same time but woke up earlier to attend morning classes," the team wrote. "Consequently, nocturnal sleep duration was shorter only on nights that preceded morning classes. "
Actigraphy data collected from the 181 students also showed that students took more naps when their first class was in the morning.
Perhaps not surprisingly – given the disruption to sleep and attendance shown earlier in the study – the team found a link between early classes and poorer grades.
"Analyses of grades in 33,818 students showed that the number of days per week they had morning classes was negatively correlated with grade point average," the team explained, concluding that their study suggests universities should consider avoiding mandatory early classes.
"Although early classes are often scheduled to maximize use of resources (classroom space and faculty time spent on teaching) and to minimize scheduling conflicts for students and faculty," they wrote, "our results indicate that there may be a trade-off, whereby students are more likely to miss class, get less sleep and obtain a lower grade point average."
The team hopes that the methods they used could be easily used by other universities, given the availability of login data to WiFi and university learning systems, so that they can assess and adjust their own timetables for better student performance.
The study was published in Nature Human Behaviour.