100 Fitbits For 100 Students: Research Project Compares Sleep Trends Between 2019 and 2020

In the fall, Michael Barker, Director of Academy Research, invited 100 Juniors and Lowers to participate in a sleep experiment. Each student selected will wear a Fitbit watch, purchased with funds from the Phillips Academy (Andover) Institutional Research Project, to track their sleep patterns for the Winter and Spring Terms of this year and next year.

Each Fitbit records basic user information, sleep logs and analysis, and activity data including step count, distance, active minutes, and calories burned. Students involved download an application on their phone that connects to their Fitbit. The Andover Institutional Research team, who designed the app, will then anonymously record the information collected by the Fitbit. The aim of the experiment is to compare data from this year with data collected next year, when the new schedule and 8:30 a.m. start will be implemented.

Malgorzata Stergios, Associate Director of Academy Research, hopes the new schedule will give students the opportunity to get more sleep. According to Stergios, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. every day.

“The underlying reason for the study is to bring important empirical insights about how [Andover] students can improve their sleep and overall wellness… We want to learn if our new schedule helps students sleep more,” wrote Stergios and Barker in an email to The Phillipian.

According to The Phillipian’s 2018 State of the Academy survey, 79 percent of the 1043 student respondents reported getting seven or less hours of sleep every night, and on average, students slept just under 6.7 hours per night.

The new schedule is designed to allow students to get 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night, according to Barker’s email in October, but Emma Fogg ’21, a participant, expressed doubts about sleeping eight hours per night, even with the new schedule.

Fogg said, “I don’t think that an extra 30 minutes will help that much for me to get more sleep. To get eight hours of sleep, that would mean that I would have to be in bed and asleep at 11:00 p.m. Even if I get in bed by 11:00 p.m., I usually don’t fall asleep for 30 minutes. But I don’t get in bed by 11:00 p.m. anyway; I go to bed around 11:30 p.m. or 12:00 a.m., which means that I would be falling asleep at 12:00 a.m. or even close to 1:00 a.m.”

Jeremy Zhou ’21 decided to join the experiment because of his previous interest in sleep monitoring. Zhou considers Andover’s process very simple and streamlined, and he enjoys the opportunity to help both himself and the organizers of the experiment.

Zhou said, “I like this idea a lot. It’s important to know whether this kind of decision is actually useful to curb loss of sleep or whether high schoolers simply compensate by sleeping later, which is very much a possibility from my personal experience. No one likes the [implementation of] unhelpful reforms.”

Arnav Bhakta ’22 is participating in the experiment to become more aware of his sleep habits and work to improve them.

Bhakta wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “I wanted to have an accurate count of how much I sleep on average. Also, I thought that if I participated in this study, then I would have more motivation to sleep, as I would be more aware of my health and strive to improve it.”

Bhakta enjoys having the Fitbit and believes that the experiment should continue in future years.

Bhakta wrote, “I would say that it is really fun. At the end of the day, I love seeing how many steps I have taken and how much sleep I am averaging for that week. Then, I am able to set goals for how I will improve tomorrow in terms of exercise and sleep. I definitely think that the experiment should continue in the future. I think it could be beneficial for all Andover students to monitor their health but also have fun with it.”