Study: College students better off without any classes in the morning

RENO, Nev. — Pulling an all-nighter wouldn’t be so bad for some undergrads if they didn’t have to get to class early in the morning. Perhaps one day they won’t have to — a new study finds that college students are better off taking classes in the evening and avoiding lectures in the morning all together.

Researchers at the University of Reno in Nevada and Open University in the UK looked at a sampling of 190 mostly freshman and sophomore college students, hoping to discover the best time of the day for said students when it came to learning.

While previous studies had found that high school students benefit from later start times in the course of their studies, this finding hadn’t been extended to college students until now.

College class lecture
A new study finds that college students are better off taking classes in the evening, and starting classes no earlier than 11 a.m.

“The basic thrust is that the best times of day for learning for college-age students are later than standard class hours begin,” says Mariah Evans, co-author of the study and an associate professor of sociology at the university, in a school press release. “Especially for freshmen and sophomores, we should be running more afternoon and evening classes as part of the standard curriculum.”

The researchers came to their conclusion by both analyzing the sleep patterns of their subjects, and directly asking them to evaluate when they felt most fit for cognitive tasks during the day.

Interestingly, “teens’ biologically ‘natural’ day begins about two hours later than is optimal for prime age adults,” Evans discloses. However, “when it comes to optimal performance, no one time fits all.”

Nevertheless, starting classes no earlier 11 a.m. or noon would result in the best overall learning, the researchers argue. No time would satisfy the needs of every chronotype— a term used to signify the hours in the day during which one stays most cognitively alert and active— but it is now established that individuals who operate best in the evening outnumber those who operate best in the morning two-to-one.

“This raises the question as to why conventional universities start their lectures at 9 a.m. or even earlier when our research reveals that this limits the performance of their students,” says Jonathan Kelley, another sociology professor who co-authored the study. “This work is very helpful for asynchronous online learning as it allows for the student to target their study time to align with their personal rhythm and at the time of day when they know they are most effective.”

The researchers advocate for the use of asynchronous online learning in addressing the needs of varying chronotypes.

The study’s findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.