Effect of chronotype on academic achievement in a sample of Italian University students

A. Montaruli, L. Castelli, L. Galasso, A. Mulè, E. Bruno, F. Esposito, A. Caumo, E. Roveda

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Circadian rhythms play an important role in biological function; their expression differs across individuals; three chronotypes are distinguished: Morning- [MT], Evening- [ET], and Neither- [NT] type. MT achieve peak activation in the first part of the day and are generally more conscientious and achievement-oriented than ET, which reach their best during the second half of the day and express a higher intelligence. University class schedules can sometimes conflict with ET circadian preferences, compromising their academic performance compared with their MT classmates. Conversely, MT students, being more aligned with their daily schedule, might be more advantaged in their mental performance. The attitudes and performance of NT students are little considered. No studies to date have investigated academic achievement in relation to chronotype in an Italian student population. To fill this gap, this study examined the relationship between chronotype and academic performance in a population of Motor Science Faculty in Milan, differentiating achievement in theoretical and practical subjects by chronotype. The study population was 423 university students (290 males and 133 females) and categorized by chronotype according to Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire (MEQ) scores. Student transcripts were reviewed to obtain exam grades on three practical and three theoretical subjects. The interaction between MEQ score or chronotypes and mean exam grade was evaluated using one-way ANOVA. The mean grades on the theoretical and practical exams were higher for the MT than for either the ET or the NT students. The NT students (24.8 ± 0.1) had lower mean grades for the theoretical subjects than either the MT (26.3 ± 0.4) or the ET (25.3 ± 0.2) students, while the ET (26.6 ± 0.2) performed worse than either the MT (27.8 ± 0.2) or the NT students (26.9 ± 0.1) on the practical exams. The same trend was observed for the total sample and when subdivided by sex. In the total sample, significant differences in theoretical and practical exam grades were noted between chronotypes: MT vs ET (p < .002, p < .0006) and MT vs NT (p < .04, p < .003). The differences between the males were significant for the theoretical (p < .006, MT vs NT, p < .002) and the practical subjects (MT vs ET p < .004, MT vs NT, p < .01), but no significant differences were noted between the females. Our findings indicate overall better academic achievement by the MT students, whereas the NT had lower exam grades for the theoretical subjects and the ET performed worse on the practical exams. We speculate that the higher intelligence expressed by the ET students might have helped them compensate the disadvantage on the theoretical but not on practical exams, in which the effect of misalignment between circadian preferences and university class schedule was more evident.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1482-1495
Number of pages14
JournalChronobiology International
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • academic achievement
  • academic performance
  • chronotype
  • eveningness
  • university students

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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