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Who are the world’s sleepiest students?

It’s the Americans, according to an analysis by Boston College researchers of data that was part of the 2011 international exams known as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS).

According to BBC News, which first reported the analysis, 73% of American  9- and 10-year-olds  and 80% of 13- and 14-year-olds were so sleepy that they were negatively affected during math instruction, and the percentages were similar in science and literacy classes. There were differences among states too; the researchers said that secondary students in Colorado were much sleepier than their counterparts in Massachusetts.

The international average:  47% for the younger students and 57% among the older group.

The list was determined by responses that teachers gave to various questions about student behavior and achievement as part of the TIMMS and PIRLS data-gathering initiative, so it’s not exactly definitive information, but it is interesting.

Here are the top 10 countries with the sleepiest students, according to this data:

1. United States
2. New Zealand
3. Saudi Arabia
4. Kuwait
5. Australia
6. Turkey
7. England
8. Chile
9. Ireland
10. Finland

The top five countries with the least sleepy students:

1. Kazakhstan
2. Azerbaijan
3. Slovakia
4. Japan
5. Malta

The TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center is based at Boston College, where researchers gave teachers questionnaires to answer along with the 2011 international tests in math, science and literacy. The BBC quoted Chad Minnich of the center as saying:

I think we underestimate the impact of sleep. Our data show that across countries internationally, on average, children who have more sleep achieve higher in maths, science and reading. That is exactly what our data show….

“Sleep is a fundamental need for all children. If teachers report such large proportions of children suffering from lack of sleep, it’s having a significant impact.

“On average” is important to remember: Finland is No. 10 on the sleepiest list and consistently is at or among the top of high-achieving countries on international test scores. On the other hand, it only makes sense that kids who are sleepy would learn less and perform less well than students who aren’t.

If you have ever looked at students walking into an American high school early in the morning, many clutching cups of coffee and practically sleep-walking, you won’t have trouble believing this information.

The analysis doesn’t indicate why students are so sleepy, but sleep researchers note that U.S. middle and high schools generally start very early, sometimes at 7 a.m., meaning that some kids have to get up a few hours earlier to get to a school bus. Sleep researchers say that teenagers have different biorhythms than everybody else and can’t fall asleep until 11 p.m., so early school starts are practically guaranteed to result in a majority of sleepy students. Some high schools have moved back their start times, but most haven’t.