Oxford Scientist Confirms Starting Work, School before 10 AM is Torture

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Dr Paul Kelley, an honorary clinical research associate at Oxford University’s Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute and one of the UK’s leading sleep experts, says forcing adults and adolescents to start work before 10 am is tantamount to torture, leaving their bodies exhausted and stressed as a result of sleep deprivation.

Dr Kelley, who believes that work and school days begin too early (at 9 am), thus emphasizes on the need to change work and school starting times as per the natural circadian rhythms of adults and adolescents, told the audience at last year’s British Science Festival in Bradford:

“Your liver and your heart have different patterns and you’re asking them to shift two or three hours. We cannot change our 24-hour rhythms. You cannot learn to get up at a certain time. Your body will be attuned to sunlight and you’re not conscious of it because it reports to hypothalamus, not sight. 

“This is a huge society issue; Staff should start at 10 am. You don’t get back to [the 9 am] starting point until 55. Staff is usually sleep deprived. We’ve got a sleep-deprived society. It is hugely damaging on the body’s systems because you are affecting physical emotional and performance systems in the body.

“This applies in the bigger picture to prisons and hospitals. They wake up people and give people food they don’t want. You’re more biddable because you’re totally out of it. Sleep deprivation is a torture. This is an international issue. Everybody is suffering and they don’t have to.”

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Dr Kelley says that students in the UK were losing around 10 hours of sleep a week because they were forced to get up too early. So to “improve the quality of life for whole generations of children,” he calls for an end to early starts at schools, colleges and university.

“At the age of 10 you get up and go to school and it fits in with our nine-to-five lifestyle. When you are about 55 you also settle into the same pattern. But in between it changes a huge amount and, depending on your age, you really need to be starting around three hours later, which is entirely natural.”

During his stint as a head teacher at Monkseaton Middle School in North Tyneside in 2009, Dr Kelley moved the school start day from 8.30 am to 10 am and found that starting an hour later improved grades in core subjects by 19%. Since his earlier experiment was a success, he stresses that children aged 8 to 10 should start school at 8.30 am or later, 16-year-olds at 10 am and 18-year-olds at 11am.

If schools across the UK adopted the new start times to fit with the natural human body clock, he adds, GCSE attainment would rise by about 10%. To see if later classes can improve exam results, about 30,000 GCSE students from more than 100 schools across England are already taking part in a four-year experiment by Oxford University. The findings are expected in 2018.

Professor Colin Epsie, who is leading the sleep study, told The Telegraph:

“Your parents think it’s because you’re lazy and opinionated and everything would be ok if you could get to sleep earlier. But science is telling us that teenagers need to sleep more in the mornings. Society’s provision for learning is school, but the brain’s is sleep. So we’re exploring the possibility that if you delay the schools start time until 10 am, it will improve learning performance.”

For the academic year 2016-2017, Dr Kelley, his Oxford University colleague Dr Russell Foster, and Harvard Medical School professor Steven Lockley are leading a research study, called Teensleep, in about 100 GCSE schools to compare how students fare in schools with 9 am start times versus 10 am start times.

“The science of it says they will perform better. They will sleep more, they’ll have less stress and anxiety, and a lower rate of drug up-take both legal and illegal. I can’t predict how much it will improve their GCSE results but I would put money on it being a statistically significant positive change.”

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A similar move could also help adult workers, feels Dr Kelley, because “before the age of 55, the circadian rhythms of adults are completely out of synch with normal 9-to-5 working hours, posing a serious threat to performance, mood and mental health.”

Current [sleep] patterns increase the risk of diabetes and schizophrenia. It is no coincident that 70% of mental illnesses start between the ages of around 11 and 24. A societal change could see students improve their grades, and boost the health and output of employees.”


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14 COMMENTS

  1. Oh great – he didn’t also happen to cause the gluten debacle did he? How about coffee, was he part of that one? How many parents have I seen purposely keeping (allowing) their kids to stay up late so they’ll sleep in and the parents can sleep in too. If a kid gets in the habit of staying up late, THAT changes his clock and now when school starts, sure, getting up early is torture. My four were never allowed to stay up late so they all woke up early and still do. They LIKE to be to work early, then come home and have some day left. ‘Course mornings are about the only time of day when the world is generally quiet and the birds are singing. Watching the sun come up is not appreciated nor amazing when you’re never there. The air is clearer and thoughts seem sharper and more intuitive when brought to light with the morning sun.

  2. Is this practice appropriate in countries located at the equitor where the sun is heating up beginning 7 a.m.?

    • As you get farther away from the equator, sunrise comes earlier. In Los Angeles, the day can start at 0530. In Fairbanks AL, the day can start at 0200

  3. I am not a morning person, but many of my friends are and can’t sleep past 5 or 6 a.m. Working at 10 am would be torture for them. While I do agree that adolescents would do better with a later start time, as many high schools start at 7:30 a.m. (Ours is switching from 7:45 am to 8 am next year) But the author is very unrealistic about making adjustments and I do agree with some commenters that some of this is getting to bed earlier. But practically speaking, schools need to start early to allow afternoon sports and student jobs. If school starts at 10 am and sports start at 5 pm or later, kids would be getting home very late. Also start school at 10 am for 17 year olds and 11 am for 18 year olds? Kids are of mixed ages in high schools regardless of what grade they’re in. Interesting info about body clocks and rhythms, but laughably unrealistic advice.

  4. And..I often wonder (just one example) how the medical community can talk health and prevention out one side of their mouths and put their staff and professionals through what they do on a daily basis in the name of “quality care” and “cost effectiveness.” any doubts? Just as a nurse what their schedule is like. Tell me this corporate circus isn’t rigged by psychopaths.

    • with regards to the NHS which is what i assume your own about marilee, the plan for the NHS is simple, run it into the ground, then when the performance drops bellow acceptable standards it can be outed and replaced with a private health care scheme meaning most people won’t be able to afford medicines or vital treatment. but people are thick and won’t realise this to be a issue, they will only perceive that the NHS is failing them

  5. I wonder what is the scientific background of this one-size-fits-all approach. I experienced through my life that different people has different cycles – I can hardly believe that the majority lives against their “human body clock” even if there is no pressure (school, work) on them.

    There is a need for a universal starting point – which is the best for most members of the society, it is OK (however you should consider family time, afterschool activities etc. – society is not just exam results) – but when someone states that there is one and only ideal hour to start for everyone – well it questions all of his statements.

  6. I am in agreement, based over eons of time, it seems natural that exposure to light outside of our natural sunrise, sunset evolutionary development over millions of years. Light exposed to skin causes a mild reaction to increase production of insulin in the body, thus ‘summertime’ is the time to eat, fruit, harvest and stuff ourselves, prior to winter hibernation.

    Following mass urban electrification, after Paris, the ‘City of Lights’ @1865, thus causing a rise in diabetes, heart, blood pressure issues.
    During times of war, post discovery and widespread use of artificial light, in major cities, many of these health problems are reduced. Coincident with total blackouts and a severe reduction in sugar intake. Rural electrification took longer, as did aboriginal reserves and it is since the post war period that rates have sky-rocketed there also.

    Exposure to sun differs due to latitude and Nordic countries, and UK, would be different than equatorial locations. Also workers exposed to lights under midnite shifts, or rotating swing shifts, are subject to increased or changing amounts of light exposure, which significantly alters the circadian rhythm.
    Personally, I have found the author’s comments to be accurate and gradually evolved to later morning, early evening work times with little negative output in work quality or volume. I encourage those with control of their destiny and work hours to try it.

    Reference “Lights Out” by Wylie, 2001. Fascinating read.

  7. We, here in Bulgaria get up at 05:50 (some even earlier) to get to school for 7:30 (on time) and we study until 12:10. Hows that to you ???

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