Online learning doesn’t improve students’ sleeping habits, according to research

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Sleep Health | Sleep Review

New research from Simon Fraser University (SFU) suggests that students who study remotely become night owls but are unable to sleep despite the time saved commuting, working, or attending social events.

The study, led by psychology professor Ralph Mistlberger, Andrea Smit, and Myriam Juda of the SFU’s Circadian Rhythms and Sleep Lab, compared self-reported sleeping habits data from 80 students enrolled in a 2020 summer session at SFU with data from 450 students in the enrolled in the same course in the previous summer semester. The study results were recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.

“There is a widespread belief among sleep researchers that many people, especially young adults, regularly get insufficient sleep due to work, school and social activities,” said a statement by Mistlberger. “The move towards remote working and schooling during COVID-19 has presented a novel opportunity to test that belief.”

The student participants kept daily sleep diaries, completed questionnaires and submitted written reports for a period of two to eight weeks. Fitbit Sleep Tracker data was collected from a subsample of participants.

The team found that students studying remotely in the summer of 2020 went to bed an average of 30 minutes later than pre-pandemic students. They slept less efficiently, less at night and more during the day, but no longer slept overall, although they did not have early classes and had 44% fewer working days than the students in previous semesters.

“A very consistent finding is a collective delay in sleep timing. People go to bed and wake up later, ”says Mistlberger. “Unsurprisingly, exposure to natural light decreases significantly, especially early in the day. The lack of a change in sleep duration came as a bit of a surprise as it contradicts the belief that young adults would sleep more if they had the time. “

Self-described night owls were more likely to report a greater positive impact on their sleep and falling asleep instead of waking up early for morning class, while morning types were more likely to report a negative reaction to sleeping later than usual.

Sleep plays an important role in the immune system and mental health, which is why good sleeping habits are vital. “My advice to students and anyone working from home is to get outside early in the day and be active as the morning light will help stabilize your circadian sleep-wake cycle. This should improve your sleep and allow you to feel rested and energized during the day, ”says Mistlberger.



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