Reconsider the working day for students

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A piece of research presented in The Guardian last week suggested that starting times for schools, colleges and universities should be postponed until later in the morning to combat a sleep deprivation crisis amongst young people. Here, I ask the university to consider abolishing 9am lectures and, at the very least, starting the working academic day at 10am.

Professor Kelley of Oxford University argues that since young people are losing around ten hours of sleep per week, sixteen-year-olds should start at 10am and eighteen-year-olds should start at 11am. The 14–24 age group is the most sleep-deprived in society, and this is an issue that directly relates to student performance. His recommendations are based on an increased understanding of circadian rhythms which act as our internal body clock, and this determines our levels of concentration, alertness, and work ability. He argues that ignoring these rhythms can lead to exhaustion, anxiety, weight gain and could make us more prone to alcohol and risk-taking.

After reading the research, I can see where Professor Kelley is coming from, and I believe he is right to a large extent. The article prompted me to reflect on my own problems with tiredness at university.

It almost goes without saying that after having a late night, trying to stay alert in 9am lectures is near-impossible. Students appear to have a tendency of getting into this habit, but the research presented by Professor Kelley suggests that this tendency is merely the result of our change in circadian rhythm, rather than consciously wanting to avoid going to bed. Ignoring this change in rhythm will inevitably impact our academic performance (not to mention, general quality of life and physical/mental health).

Although the article doesn’t discuss how it would improve academic performance at university, it is argued that GCSE attainment may by around 10% if the change was to be adopted. When applied to the university campus, this suggests that we may see more students achieving first class and 2:1 degrees whilst also having a sustainable work/life balance.

This is more than just a piece of research, and it’s instead a change in discourse. Now, the argument is that the working day for young people should work around their sleep patterns, rather than young people working around a pre-determined work schedule.

I struggled with the working day whilst at school, but at university (where I don’t have to go to lectures and seminars at 9am every morning), my performance has significantly improved. This isn’t an excuse to lie-in, but it is instead a proposal to change the start of the academic working day. Starting later would inevitably mean finishing later, which opens up a whole new can of worms for lecturers. A fundamental change to timetabling must take place across the whole University.

Whilst the status quo suggests the academic working day should be in line with business hours, Professor Kelley’s research suggests that these hours are only appropriate for those aged around 55. Lancaster University should lead the way in postponing classes until 10am, kick-starting a national trend to increase student performance. We have campaigned for classes to be abandoned on Wednesday afternoons; going against the status quo is not uncommon for universities, and perhaps this is the next step.

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