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As high school seniors graduate and begin preparing for their first semester of college in the fall, they should put selecting a sleep friendly schedule at the top of their list of things to do. Many college students look forward to the freedom a college schedule brings, and decide to choose classes that start later in the day so that they don’t have to get up early for class.  A new study from St. Lawrence University that was presented at Sleep 2011 indicates that choosing these later classes may actually result in a lower GPA and less college success.

The study tracked the sleep habits, cognitive function, alcohol consumption, and grade point averages of 253 students at the University.  Each student participated in several cognitive tests, kept a sleep diary, and answered questionnaires about their sleep routines and attitudes, their class schedules, their substance use, and their mood over the course of a week.  The results painted a very different picture of what habits develop in those students who chose a later class schedule than the conventional wisdom would have shown.

A class schedule that allowed a student to sleep-in was predictive of several behaviors that are not conducive to learning and getting good grades.

1.    These students got poorer quality sleep than the early birds, even if they had longer sleep durations.

2.       The night owls were less rested overall and experienced more daytime sleepiness.  This can be attributed to the poor sleep quality and are both significant factors in learning and achievement.

3.       Students with this type of schedule drank more alcohol on average than their earlier rising peers.   The disruptive effect alcohol has on sleep is thought to be a key factor in the decrease in sleep quality mentioned above.

4.       Late risers also had more reports of binge drinking.

5.       Those students who slept in and attended classes later in the day had lower GPAs than their counterparts.

The preliminary conclusion of this study  tells the whole story.  Students with later schedules tend to be those who proclaim themselves as night-owls and choose that type of schedule so that they can sleep-in in the morning.  Because they don’t have to get up early, these students are more likely to go out at night, which leads to a higher consumption of alcohol overall.  Any extra sleep they get by sleeping-in is wiped out by the affect the alcohol has on the quality of their sleep.  This leaves them tired when they finally go to class.  Fatigue makes it difficult to focus and to retain information, creating a challenging learning environment.  This leads to more difficulties staying on top of class work and lower grades.

However, this early bird syndrome only seems to apply to college students, as previous research has shown that students in high school and elementary school actually get better grades when their school start times allow more time for them to sleep in the morning.

The key for college students is to remember that sleep matters.  To boost their ability to bring home grades they can be proud, they need to start the school year with good sleep hygiene habits and remember that a good night’s sleep is second only to studying in making the grade.

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Since 2002, Valley Sleep Center, accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, has provided Arizona with diagnostic sleep disorder testing in a home-like atmosphere, ensuring a comfortable, relaxing experience for patients. Our Board Certified Sleep Medicine Specialists are experienced and knowledgeable physicians who provide expert advice on sleep and sleep-related disorders. We accept most insurance plans as well as Medicare. For additional information about how we might be able to help you, please contact Lauri Leadley at 480-830-3900.

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