A study by researchers from the University of Oxford, Harvard Medical School, and the University of Nevada, published in Learning, Media and Technology, 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 8:30+ AM at age 10; 10+ AM at 16; and 11+ AM 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.

These findings arise from a deeper understanding of circadian rhythms, and the genes associated with regulating this daily cycle every 24 hours, the researchers say.

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.

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