There are few sounds more agonizing, more piercing, more tormenting than the morning alarm clock. For many, the first half-hour of the day is saturated with a hazy depression. It’s in these 30 minutes that even the secular learn to pray, but, save for a snowstorm, it’s useless: the average work day starts at 9:00 AM or earlier. But according to at least one researcher, Oxford University neuroscientist Dr. Paul Kelley, this morning routine is tantamount to torture.
Kelley says the circadian rhythms of anyone younger than 55 do not align with the typical working hours of 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
Forcing employees to be at work earlier than 10:00 AM is a form of biological torture, according to Dr. Kelley.
To maximize the health and productivity of students and workers, he believes 16-year-olds shouldn’t start their days any earlier than 10:00 AM. For 18-year-olds, the work day should begin at 11:00 AM. Dr. Kelley even tested this theory with a class he taught at a middle school in North Tyneside, England, and the result was a nearly 20 percent increase in the number of top grades.
“Staff should start at 10:00 AM. You don’t get back to (the 9:00 AM) starting point ’til 55,” Dr. Kelley said at the British Science Festival, hosted by the University of Bradford. “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.”
His main contention is that while your 24-hour sleeping rhythms cannot be changed, as they align with the sun, we can choose as a society to restructure our normal working hours.
Your 24-hour sleeping rhythms cannot be changed, but your work hours can.
Dr. Kelley is currently working on another study—one that will span four years and 100 secondary schools—in which certain schools in England will start at 10:00 AM. The study will be complete in 2018 and could have a significant impact on the future start time of schools everywhere.
Researchers have found that teenagers are, in fact, biologically disposed to late bedtimes. Additionally, sleep deprivation can lead to a number of adverse mental health problems in teenagers, a group often already struggling to navigate their shifting hormones. These issues can span from anxiety and chronic-stress to impulsive behavior and lack of focus.
Teenagers and young adults are biologically disposed to late bedtimes.
And it isn’t just teenagers who are impacted. Sleep deprivation can lead to an increased risk of serious health conditions among adults of all ages, including heart disease, hypertension, obesity, and more. Dr. Kelley prompts society to ask whether these risks are worth the early start time. “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,” he said.
Let’s be clear: while the workday’s 9:00 AM start is unnecessary and horrible, anyone who’s actually gone through the unspeakable experience would undoubtedly reject the conflation of early work hours and torture. So it’s important to point out that, while a 9:00 AM—or earlier—start time sucks, it surely doesn’t suck as much as actual torture. Not even close, in fact. But waking up earlier than necessary is grueling, harmful to your health, and detrimental to productivity. And that alone should warrant a radical change in the structure of the modern workday.