“You can’t fight your body clock,” a colleague of mine once said, as we were talking about my mid-life career switch to journalism. I agree. I’ve always been a morning person, and a job that involved covering lots of public meetings at night would have made my sleep problem a lot worse.
Being a morning person or a night owl is such a fundamental aspect of who we are that it appears to affect the majors college students choose. For some 500 juniors and seniors who completed a survey at Penn State University, researchers found several correlations between their sleep habits and their chosen fields of study, according to a report in Huffington Post.
- Nutrition majors tended to be morning people.
- Students who majored in Management Science & Information Systems, or Administration of Justice, tended to be night owls.
- Media students were the most sleep deprived, averaging over three hours’ less sleep a night than they wanted.
- Speech Communication majors, on the other hand, tended to report getting nearly a full night’s sleep every night.
Why Does All This Matter?
“A mismatch of job time and biological time, as well as intolerance to partial sleep loss, can negatively influence peak job and school performance,” study author Frederick M. Brown wrote in an email following the conference last week. “It can become a stressor and increase on-the-job errors or accidents. Not only that, individuals who show strong aptitude for certain professions may be dissuaded from pursuing them in favor of following their preferred morning vs. evening activity routine.”
I empathize with Brown’s concerns. The mismatch of job time and biological time and partial sleep loss can cause real problems in people’s lives. But I’m not sure why he’s studying college students, who after all do have more choices than most of us and can take their natural sleep patterns into account as they’re making decisions that will affect the rest of their lives.
Surely it’s the ones among us who don’t have choices—the less educated, the poor, the unskilled—who, forced to work nights and do shift work, struggle the most with the problems Brown is lamenting. Shouldn’t we be devoting our research dollars to studying the impact of the unnatural sleep patterns they’re forced to adopt, and to helping them manage their sleep?
If you’ve routinely had to work during hours when you wanted to sleep, what was that experience like, and how did you cope?