"We found that the majority of students were being jet-lagged by their class times, which correlated very strongly with decreased academic performance," said study co-lead author Benjamin Smarr from the University of California-Berkeley.
‘Social jet lag among college students linked to learning deficits, obesity, excessive alcohol and tobacco use.’
To reach this conclusion, the team tracked the personal daily online activity profiles of nearly 15,000 college students as they logged into campus servers.
After sorting the students into "night owls," "daytime finches" and "morning larks" -- based on their activities on days they were not in class -- researchers compared their class times to their academic outcomes.
"Our research indicates that if a student can structure a consistent schedule in which class days resemble non-class days, they are more likely to achieve academic success," said study co-lead author Aaron Schirmer, an associate professor of biology at Northeastern Illinois University.
Previous studies have found that older people tend to be active earlier while young adults shift to a later sleep-wake cycle during puberty.
Overall, men stay up later than women, and circadian rhythms shift with the seasons based on natural light.
Finding these patterns reflected in students' login data spurred researchers to investigate whether digital records might also reflect the biological rhythms underlying people's behaviour.
The results suggest that "rather than admonish late students to go to bed earlier, in conflict with their biological rhythms, we should work to individualise education so that learning and classes are structured to take advantage of knowing what time of day a given student will be most capable of learning," Smarr said.
"Different people really do have biologically diverse timing, so there isn't a one-time-fits-all solution for education," he added.