Having too many early-morning classes ‘drags down student grades’

One in three students misses 8am classes, and having more early starts is associated with lower grades, Singapore study finds

February 20, 2023
Source: iStock

Having to attend an early-morning lecture might ruin a student’s mood for the day, but research finds that it could affect their grades, too.

A study in Nature Human Behaviour has found that having to turn up for morning classes on more days of the week is associated with poorer academic performance and contributes to a campus-wide “sleep debt”.

Researchers examined the sleep data, lecture attendance and grades of tens of thousands of students at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

They found “concerning associations” between early-morning classes and learning outcomes and suggested that universities should consider avoiding mandatory early-morning classes.

The paper’s authors say students who attend class regularly and sleep well are more likely to get good grades and, in turn, enjoy better job prospects.

“Therefore, universities should adopt practices that improve students’ attendance rates and sleep behaviour to position them to succeed in the classroom and workforce,” they add.

Researchers noted that previous studies showing the benefits of delaying morning classes for schoolchildren might not be relevant to higher education students because of the different “environmental pressures” the two groups face.

A recent paper found that more sleep early in a term was associated with students achieving a higher grade-point average (GPA), and that every hour of nightly sleep lost was associated with a 0.07 decrease on the four-point GPA scale.

Here, researchers analysed the wi-fi connection data of 24,000 NUS students to assess attendance at university lecture halls, the login times of 40,000 students using an online learning platform to monitor waking times, and the sleep records of 181 students from a six-week study.

Those with an early class faced two “undesirable choices” – sleep longer but miss a lecture, or attend class but get less shut-eye.

Study participants missed nearly a third of 8am classes, while they “rarely” slept past the start of classes that began at noon or later.

Analysis showed that 8am classes had lower attendance rates and were associated with students missing sleep, and that students took more naps on days when their first class was in the morning.

Students who had more days of morning classes in a week had lower GPAs, which, the authors suggest, might be a result of “cumulative negative effects of morning classes on absenteeism and presenteeism”.

Because the students still went to bed at about the same time regardless of their class schedules, the results also suggested that early classes might contribute to “a university-wide sleep debt and circadian misalignment”.

They conclude that universities should consider avoiding mandatory early-morning classes, even though they are often scheduled to maximise the use of resources and minimise scheduling conflicts.

The paper says future studies should examine how starting morning classes later affects sleep patterns and grade outcomes.


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Reader's comments (2)

Lecturers function better if they've had adequate sleep too!!!
Yes! Absolutely.