Traditional 9 am lectures should be scrapped and students should be allowed to start their day later, experts have claimed, following new research that suggests early mornings interfere with young adults’ body clocks.
According to researchers at The Open University, lectures should start no earlier than 11am for students to be able to perform at their best. Working with researchers at the University of Nevada, experts analysed the study patterns of 200 students and found academic performance was at its best between 11am and 9:30pm.
Paul Kelley, of The Open University, said, “Students do better if they can target their study time to align with their personal rhythm and at the time of day when they know they are most effective. Having to get up early might be linked to the rise in students’ mental health problems.”
According to the study, biological changes beginning in puberty shift natural wake and sleep times by up to three hours later in the day. This shift is at its greatest at age 19, before reverting to an earlier pattern when adults hit their mid-20s.
Traditionally, education and work start at fixed times, however, meaning young adults are likely to struggle with learning at a time which feels unnatural to them. “The temporal misalignment between the sleep timing shift and educational institutions’ usual hours causes significant sleep loss,” the report’s authors said.
“Sleep loss, in turn, impairs academic performance and also elevates risks of obesity, depression, and drug abuse. While genetic factors lead to variations in circadian rythms of up to four hours from the average, age and gender can also play a part in determining how easily a person can learn early in the morning.
The findings conflict with another recent study that suggested students should readjust their biological clocks to cope with early mornings by avoiding the lights from smartphones and laptops at night. Academics from Surrey University and Harvard Medical School argue that delaying school start times would simply cause most teenagers’ internal clocks to drift later, and in a matter of weeks they would find it just as hard to get out of bed.
In 2009, Monkseaton High School in North Tyneside partook in an experiment by delaying the schools start times from 8:50 am to 10 am. This led to an increase in the percentage of pupils getting five good GCSEs from around 34 per cent to about 50 per cent.
Among disadvantaged pupils, the increase had been from about 19 per cent to about 43 per cent, it was reported. “Education and work generally start at fixed times, mostly early and with no adjustment for different chronotypes among those who study and work,” researchers from the Open University study said.
However in adolescence and early adulthood optimal wake and sleep times are shifted two to three hours later in the day, and yet this group are still required to conform to education start times more appropriate to young children and older adults.
If universities were to choose a new standard starting time, the group suggested “anywhere between 11am and 1pm” would be close to optimal for the average undergraduate student.