If you’re the kind of late riser who thinks it’d be ideal if the whole ‘morning thing’ could just kick off a couple of hours later, you’re not the only one. According to a prominent sleep expert in the UK, it’s not you who’s out of whack – it’s our entire current system of work and schooling hours.
Forcing staff to work nine-to-five leaves their bodies exhausted and stressed as a result of sleep deprivation, says Dr Paul Kelley.
The Oxford University academic said it posed a threat to performance until the age of 55 when humans start needing less sleep.
“This is a huge issue for society,” Kelley told David Barnett at The Guardian. “We are generally a sleep-deprived society but the 14–24 age group is more sleep-deprived than any other sector of society. This causes serious threats to health, mood performance and mental health.”
‘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 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.’
Dr Kelley, an honorary clinical research fellow at Oxford University’s Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, said there was a need for society to change work and school starting times to fit with the natural human body clock.
Firms that force employees to start work earlier risked hurting their output and storing up health problems among employees.
The sleep scientist is involved with Teensleep, which aims to recruit 100 schools across the UK to take part in an experimental trial of later starting times for the school day. Kelley says young people in Britain on average are losing some 10 hours’ sleep per week by being forced to accommodate unnaturally early morning lessons.
He advocates 8:30am starts for children aged eight to 10, 10am starts for 16-year-olds and 11am lessons for 18-year-olds.
“At the age of 10 you get up and go to school and it fits in with our 9-to–5 lifestyle,”Kelley said. “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 3 hours later, which is entirely natural.”
If Kelley’s right, what this effectively means is that our whole lives from the onset of our teen years through to the end of middle age are like being woken up too early. Every. Single. Day.
““Staff should start at 10am… Staff are usually sleep-deprived,” Kelly told the British Science Festival. “Everybody is suffering and they don’t have to. We cannot change out 24-hour rhythms.”