New research from Simon Fraser University suggests that distance-learning students become night owls, but don’t sleep more despite the time saved for commuting, working, or attending social events.
The study, led by psychology professor Ralph Mistlberger, Andrea Smit and Myriam Juda, at SFU’s Circadian Rhythms and Sleep Lab, compared self-reported data on the sleep patterns of 80 students enrolled in a 2020 summer course at SFU with data collected from 450 students. enrolled in the same course during previous summer semesters. The results of the study 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 as a result of work, school, and social activities,” says Mistlberger. “The shift to remote work and school during COVID-19 provided a new opportunity to test this belief.”
Participating students kept daily sleep diaries over a two to eight week period, completed questionnaires, and provided written reports. Fitbit sleep tracking data was collected from a subsample of participants.
The team found that students learning remotely in the summer 2020 semester went to bed an average of 30 minutes later than students in the pre-pandemic. They slept less efficiently, less at night and more during the day, but did not sleep more overall despite the lack of early classes and 44% fewer work days compared to students in previous semesters.
“A very consistent result is a collective delay in sleep timing – people go to bed and wake up later,” says Mistlberger. “Not surprisingly, there is also a marked reduction in exposure to natural light, especially early in the day. The lack of change in sleep duration was a bit of a surprise, as it goes on. Against the assumption that young adults would sleep more if they had time. “
Self-proclaimed night owls were more likely to report a greater positive impact on their sleep, falling asleep, instead of waking up early for that morning class, while morning types were more likely to report a negative response to sleep later than usual.
Sleep plays an important role in immune functioning and mental health, which is why good sleep habits are essential.
“My advice to students and anyone working from home is to try to get outside and be active early in the day, as morning light helps stabilize your circadian sleep-wake cycle – it should improve your sleep and you. allow you to feel more rested and energized during the day, ”says Mistlberger.
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