Sarah has covered news topics for digital and print publications. She holds a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Nevada.
The education system was one of the most impacted institutions with the onset of COVID-19 in 2020. For students across the United States, routines were upended; remote learning and subsequent hybrid schedules were introduced — and these changes have caused a disruption in students’ sleep.
In a novel study recently published in the journal Sleep, researchers found that when students were attending in-person classes, they experienced shorter sleep opportunities when compared to online instruction, and interestingly, that the most disruptive instructional method in terms of sleep routines was the hybrid learning model. This model features a blend of in-person and remote or online learning over the course of a school week.
Researchers found a unique opportunity to study these instructional methods with the circumstances introduced by COVID-19 that kept large groups apart. The study was developed to capture the complex associations among instructional approaches, school start times, and sleep outcomes (including timing, opportunity, variability, and behaviors). Researchers worked with a nationwide group of more than 6,500 U.S. middle school and high school students by tracking their sleep patterns and instructional models.
The results of the study illustrated significantly greater inconsistency in times that students went to sleep and woke up from night to night when they were attending school in a hybrid learning model, which can negatively impact students the following day.
They also showed that later school start times, which are more achievable with remote learning, were shown to result in a better sleep opportunity for both middle and high school students.
When looking at middle school students specifically, the ideal start time for a good night’s sleep was between 8:30-9:00 p.m. This start time applied to only 33% of in-person students and 47% of online/synchronous middle school students. These statistics show that the majority of students were not in a routine that promoted ideal sleep routines.
In high school students, the benefits of a later start time were most notable. This adds to the argument that a later school start time may make a notably positive impact on sleep for that age group. Researchers suggest that factors such as getting ready for and commuting to school should also be considered in future research, as they further contribute to reduced sleep opportunities for students attending in-person school.
The idea of hybrid instruction, when students attend in-person school on some weekdays and online school on others, was thought to give students more days to “catch up” on their sleep during the days when online learning takes place — this study proves otherwise.
In fact, the constant switch between modes of education actually resulted in more sleep pattern inconsistencies, which are “associated with negative day-time outcomes for adolescents, including mood, behavior, and social interactions.”
The complexity of instructional approaches has never been more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic. The unprecedented shift in instructional models has provided opportunities to examine the ways in which the educational structures impact students. Results of this study provide important considerations for planning instruction that better meet students’ biological needs.