The difference between a B+ and an A- could be the class time

Grades suffer when students don't align their class schedule to their biological rhythm, according to a study from the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) and Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU).

The researchers analyzed 14,894 NEIU students' login activity on the campus servers for two years. Based on their activity levels on non-class days, students were sorted into one of three chronotypes: morning larks, daytime finches, or night owls, writes Yasmin Anwar for UC Berkeley News.

For morning larks and daytime finches, energy and mood "[follow] a common pattern: a peak, a trough, and a recovery," Daniel Pink writes in When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. Larks and finches reach peak alertness in the morning, experience an energy lull in the afternoon, and recover in early evening. Night owls experience the same three phases, but in reverse order.

Related: How sleep qualify affects students' grades

After comparing students' academic schedules to their natural biological rhythms, researchers found that 50% of students took classes before they were fully alert. Only 40% of students were biologically in-sync with their class schedule—but those that were tended to earn higher GPAs.  

Night owls were most susceptible to chronic jet lag and many seemed unable to perform optimally at any time of day, writes Anwar. About two-thirds of students identify as "evening people," according to one survey.

Different people have different biological rhythms so "there isn't a one-time-fits-all solution for education," says Benjamin Smarr, the study's co-author. Administrators can't just tell students to go to bed earlier, he notes.

Instead, advisors should help students choose class times that match their energy levels, he suggests. Other studies encourage colleges to provide more night classes or asynchronous online learning options so students can design a schedule that works for them (Anwar, UC Berkeley News, 4/4; Smarr/Schirmer, Scientific Reports, 4/4).

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