Obliging employees to begin with work before 10am is equal to torture and leads to illnesses, exhaustion and stress, claims an Oxford academic. Before reaching the age of 55, adults’ circadian rhythms are entirely unsynchronized with normal 9-to-5 working hours, which seriously threatens performance, mood and mental health.
Dr Paul Kelley, of Oxford University, said there was a need for a huge societal change to move work and school starting times to fit with the natural body clock of humans.
Experiments studying circadian rhythms have shown that the average 10-year-old will not start focusing properly for academic work before 8.30am. Similarly, a 16-year-old should start at 10am for best results and university students should start at 11am.
Dr Kelley believes that simply moving school times could raise grades by 10 per cent. He was formerly a head teacher at Monkseaton Middle School, in North Tyneside, where he changed the school start day from 8.30am to 10am and found that the number of top grades rose by 19 per cent.
Similarly, companies who force employees to start work earlier are also likely to be hurting their output, while storing up health problems for staff.
“This is a huge society issue,” Dr Kelley told the British Science a Festival in Bradford. “Staff should start at 10am. You don’t get back to (the 9am) starting point till 55. Staff are 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.
“Your liver and your heart have different patterns and you’re asking them to shift two or three hours. This is an international issue. Everybody is suffering and they don’t have to.
“We cannot change out 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 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.”
Sleep deprivation has been shown to have major impacts on health. Just one week with less that six hours’ sleep each night leads to 711 changes in how genes function.
Lack of sleep impacts performance, attention, long-term memory and encourages drug and alcohol use.
It also leads to exhaustion, anxiety, frustration, anger, impulsive behavior, weight gain, risk-taking, high blood pressure, lower immunity, stress and a raft of mental health conditions.
Neuroscientists say teens are biologically predisposed to go to sleep at around midnight and not feel fully awake and engaged until around 10am.
Dr Kelley said that almost all students were losing around 10 hours of sleep a week because they were forced to get up too early.
“Just by changing the start time you can improve quality of life for whole generations of children,” he added.
“There are major societal problems that are being caused by that. But the opportunities are fantastic. We have an opportunity here to do something that would benefit millions of people on Earth.”
Tens of thousands of children are starting school at 10am in a ground-breaking experiment by Oxford to prove that later classes can improve exam results.
GCSE students from more than 100 schools across England will take part in the four-year project based on scientific evidence which suggests teenagers are out of sync with traditional school. The team is hoping to publish findings in 2018.
A Department of Education spokesman said: “We have given all schools the freedom to control the length of the school day because they are best placed to know what’s best for their communities.
“Allowing more time for supervised study and extra-curricular activities has been shown to benefit disadvantaged pupils in particular by giving them access to purposeful, character-building activities, which is why we are helping schools offer a longer day.”