A Call to End Early Starts in Education

We all know about the damaging effects of losing sleep. Some of us have also acknowledged how devastating it can be on our adolescents who have altered circadian rhythms that affect their ability to fall asleep early enough to accommodate the early school starting times. Yet, despite knowing all this, nothing much is happening on the front to delay the starting times for school.

Part of the problem lies in the entrenched belief that teenagers struggle to wake up in the morning because they’re lazy, or because they lack the discipline to sleep earlier. Perhaps if more parents realised that the problem lies in their teenagers’ internal body clock, there might be a stronger push to delay school starting times.

Then again, even if we were all on board, uprooting an entire school’s schedule is not easy to initiate. Not only will it difficult for the school but for the families as well. Those with more than one child will have children attending school at different times, making it harder to coordinate drop off and pick up. Pushing back the start time by one hour will mean hitting peak hour traffic which will defeat the purpose of starting later if we end up spending more time on the road getting the kids to school.

I remain hopeful that we will eventually find a resolution for this problem because many schools have already made significant headway towards improving the education system for our children. Meanwhile, if we continue to spread awareness of this issue, perhaps it might gain the attention it deserves. The following article published by Routledge outlines the crux of the problem:

Synchronizing education to adolescent biology: ‘Let teens sleep, start school later’

Paul Kelley, Steven W. Lockley, Russell G. Foster & Jonathan Kelley.
Volume 40, Issue 1, Learning, Media and Technology.

Study reveals that traditional student start times are damaging learning and health

A study by researchers from the University of Oxford, Harvard Medical School and the University of Nevada has found that current school and university start times are damaging the learning and health of students.

Drawing on the latest sleep research, the authors conclude students start times should be 08:30+ at age 10; 10:00+ at 16; and 11:00+ at 18. Implementing these start times should protect students from short sleep duration and chronic sleep deprivation, which are linked to poor learning and health problems.

What are the optimal times for starting school?

  • 10 years old – 8:30am
  • 16 years old – 10:00am
  • 18 years old – 11:00am

These findings arise from a deeper understanding of circadian rhythms, better known as the body clock, and the genes associated with regulating this daily cycle every 24 hours.

It is during adolescence when the disparity between inherent circadian rhythms and the typical working day come about. Circadian rhythms determine our optimum hours of work and concentration, and in adolescence these shift almost 3 hours later. These genetic changes in sleeping patterns were used to determine start times that are designed to optimize learning and health.

The US Department of Health has also recently published an article in favour of changing the start times for Middle and High Schools.

Learn more at the British Science Festival

Corresponding author Paul Kelley (Honorary Clinical Research Associate, Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, University of Oxford) will be presenting Time: the key to really understanding our lives at the British Science Festival on Tuesday 8 September. As the British Science Association’s President of Education this academic year, Kelley will be advising the audience on how our better understanding of our body clock can benefit us all.

The Festival will take place from 7-10 September in Bradford, and provides an opportunity to meet researchers face-to-face and discuss the latest science, technology and engineering.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend, but if you’re in the region, you can still reserve your place at www.britishsciencefestival.org (space for some events is limited, so you’d better book now).