June 9, 2008 (Baltimore) -- College students who are "morning people" may have a higher chance of graduating near the top of their class.
In a study at a Texas university, early birds had an average grade point average (GPA) that was a full point higher than night owls: 3.5 vs. 2.5.
A standardized questionnaire was used to classify the students as morning or evening types.
The questionnaire gauges "whether you're a morning or evening person based on what time of day is best for you -- that is, if there were no constraints on your life, when would you go to bed and wake up; when are you most productive," says researcher Daniel J. Taylor, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Texas in Denton.
"What we found," he tells WebMD, "is that the more of a morning person you are, the more likely you are to have a higher GPA."
The results held true even after the researchers took into account other factors related to higher GPAs, such as verbal SAT scores and other standardized tests that measure academic ability.
The study involved 824 undergrads who were enrolled in psychology classes.
(Do you feel that your teen's sleep patterns are affecting his schoolwork? See what other parents think on WebMD's Parenting: Preteens and Teenagers board.)
Why Early Birds Get the Grades
So why do morning people do so much better? One possibility is that it's "easier to get to your classes on time and study if you get up earlier," Taylor says.
And, if you go to bed early, you'll be less tempted to go out drinking "or engage in other activities that can have negative influences on academic performance," he says.
The findings open the possibility that "you may be able to improve your grades by making yourself more of a morning person," Taylor says.
One way to do that may be to try to get up a half-hour earlier one morning, stick with that schedule for three days or so, and then advance your schedule another 30 minutes, he says.
Also, "get plenty of sunlight when you wake up -- that's what really sets your biological clock," Taylor says.
But American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) spokesman Dennis Nicholson, MD, says that converting college-aged night owls into early birds "is somewhat unrealistic."
Dorm life -- with late-night loud music and visitors the rule rather than the exception -- simply isn't conducive to going to bed early, he tells WebMD.
"A smarter way to deal with the problem is to schedule your classes to start later, maybe after 11 a.m.," Nicholson says. He's the medical director of the sleep disorder center at Pomona Valley Hospital in California.
The research was presented here at SLEEP 2008, a joint venture of AASM and the Sleep Research Society.
Insomnia Linked to Lower GPAs
Also at the meeting, University of Colorado researchers reported that college students who suffer from insomnia and other sleep problems tend to have lower GPAs.
The study involved 64 psychology, nursing, and medical students. Half had GPAs between 2.4 and 3.4; the others had GPAs above 3.4.
Results showed that compared with the group with high GPAs, the group with lower GPAs:
- Had more difficulty falling asleep: 70% vs. 40%.
- Were more likely to wake up and have trouble falling back to sleep in the middle of the night: 66% vs. 38%.
- Had more trouble concentrating during the day: 73% vs. 43%.
Insomnia is the most commonly reported sleep disorder, affecting about 30% of adults, according to the AASM.