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How poor sleep patterns impact educational quality

sleeping student

How poor sleep patterns impact educational quality

Dr. Anthony Warren
| 2023-03-04 | 2 min read

According to the National Sleep Foundation, extended sleep times are vital during the learning years. Specifically preschoolers need at least 11-13 hours, school children, 9-11 hours, teenagers: 8-10 hours and college students 7-9 hours.

Furthermore, as children age, the timing of their sleep changes. Teenagers' biological clocks shift during puberty. Typically, adolescents and teens fall asleep at a later hour at night and tend to sleep later in the morning. This pattern can present problems, because school schedules often require that teens get up early for classes.

Unfortunately, timetables set by most educational institutes are based on the societal demands of parents, teachers, transportation logistics and the efficient use of fixed facilities; not on maximizing the learning outcomes of students. Despite a significant body of research tying inappropriate sleep patterns to poor educational results, very few administrators have modified schedules to better fit the needs of their students. This applies from kindergartens to colleges.

Here are some examples of relevant recent research covering different student ages illustrating the breadth of the problem.

Kindergarten and Pre-school: Research on kindergarten students by a team led by Dr. Douglas Tesi at Penn State found that regularity of nighttime sleep in which children slept 10 or more hours per night, especially at pre-K, consistently predicted more favorable outcomes in both socio-emotional behaviors, learning engagement, and academic domains. Their results suggest that establishing healthy nighttime sleep habits even before K start is especially supportive of better K adjustment across the full K year.

High School: A team lead by Dr. Luigi De Gennaro in Italy, reports on a meta study looking at the impact of delaying school start times for adolescent students. To quote ‘Insufficient sleep among school-aged adolescents has become an alarming health issue. Numerous studies worldwide consistently describe a wide variety of adverse consequences, including health risks, poor cognitive performance, and behavioral accidents.’ In addition to biological and social factors, school timing also contributes to inadequate sleep conditions in this age population. Early school start time generates an evident mismatch with the natural phase shift in adolescence, leading to chronic sleep restriction. Besides, many studies have shown the benefits of the implementation of delayed school start times programs.

College: and finally, a detailed study focused on higher education. A team led by Prof. Joshua Gooley at the Duke-NUS Medical School, in Singapore, followed the activities of thousands of university students for 6 semesters.

They employed some rather novel research methods to determine whether early morning classes are associated with lower attendance, shorter sleep and poorer academic achievement by analyzing students’ digital behaviors. Wi-Fi connection logs for over 20,000 students showed that class attendance was about 10% lower for 8 am classes compared with later lectures.

Furthermore, nightly actigraphy data from a subset of students demonstrated that nocturnal sleep was an hour shorter for early classes because students had to drag themselves out of bed earlier than usual.

Checking the grades of nearly 34,000 showed the number of days per week they had morning classes negatively correlated with their GPA’s. On average GPA’s dropped by nearly a half point for students with morning classes. The more days per week they had early classes, the larger the impact on GPA’s.

This research is just the latest that has looking at the impact of class start times at all levels of education, from first grade, high schools and universities.

With all this research pointing strongly at a mismatch between class scheduling and educational outcomes, finally a few forward looking educational authorities are taking some small steps to mitigate the problem. For example, in 2019, California signed into law statute SB328 which is explicitly designed to protect adolescent sleep health by requiring most California public school districts to start no earlier than 8:00 AM for middle schools and 8:30 AM for high schools. Other states including Alaska, New York, New Jersey, and Tennessee are considering similar changes. Yet clearly there is much more to be done.


Teti D. M., Whitesell C. I., Mogle J. A., Crosby B., Buxton O. M., Bierman K. L., Almeida D. M., ‘Sleep Duration and Kindergarten Adjustment’ Pediatrics (2022) 150 (2): e2021054362.

Alfonsi V., Scarpelli S., D’Atri A., Stella G., De Gennaro L., ‘Later School Start Time: The Impact of Sleep on Academic Performance and Health in the Adolescent Population’, Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17(7), 2574;

Biller, A.M., Molenda, C., Obster, F. et al. ‘A 4-year longitudinal study investigating the relationship between flexible school starts and grades’, Sci Rep 12, 3178 (2022).

Werner H., Albrecht J. N., Widmer, N., Janisch D., Huber R.,  Jenni O. G., ‘Adolescents’ preference for later school start times’, Jnl. Sleep Res., 2022, Vol. 1, Issue 1.

Ziporyn T. D., et. al., ‘Adolescent sleep health and school start times: Setting the research agenda for California and beyond. A research summit summary’, Sleep Health, Volume 8, Issue 1, 2022, pp 11-22,

Gooley J., e.t al. ‘Early morning university classes are associated with impaired sleep and academic performance’, Nat Hum Behav (2023).

Wahlstrom, K.L., ‘Circadian Rhythms and School Start Times: The Indivisible Link Between Medicine and Education’. In: Auger, R. (eds) Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Disorders. Springer, Cham., 2020,

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