Early Morning University Classes Linked to Lower Attendance and Poor Academic Performance

By Cailin Conner - April 5, 2023

A study conducted by researchers at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore has found that early morning classes in universities may be detrimental to academic performance. The research, recently published in Nature Human Behaviour, analyzed data from student Wi-Fi connections and log-ins to university and digital learning platforms, as well as activity data from specialized sensing watches to track the attendance and sleep patterns among tens of thousands of university students.

Sleep scientists examined the day and night patterns of digital learning platform logins for 39,458 students to investigate whether early morning classes were correlated with waking up earlier and receiving less sleep. Lastly, they assessed the academic performance of 33,818 students and the number of morning classes they were enrolled in to evaluate the potential impact on their grade point average.

The results of the study revealed classes starting at or prior to 8:00 a.m. were linked to lower attendance levels, with many students often sleeping past the start of classes. When students did attend these early classes, they lost around an hour of sleep, which negatively affected their academic performance.

Additionally, the researchers found that having morning classes on more days of the week was associated with lower grade point averages, further highlighting that early morning classes may be hindering the academic progress of university students. Students who regularly attended early morning classes may be forced to choose between attending class while sleep-deprived or skipping class to get more sleep. The research proposes that universities should reconsider mandatory early morning classes and instead focus on creating a timetable that accommodates students’ sleep needs.

“If the goal of formal education is to position our students to succeed in the classroom and workforce, why are we forcing many university students into the bad decision of either skipping morning class to sleep more or attending class while sleep-deprived?” Associate professor and Principal Investigator of the Chronobiology and Sleep Laboratory at Duke-NUS Medical School, Joshua Gooley, PhD, stated in a press release. “The take-home message from our study is that universities should reconsider mandatory early morning classes.”

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