Fascinating! I just happened to be driving back from Oxford today in time to hear a radio interview with a Dr Paul Kelly regarding recent research into teenage sleep patterns. Kelly referenced this programme on the BBC, in which he appears (hopefully this will be available to non-UK residents - please let me know if this is not the case).
The research question was something along the lines of: are teenagers just lazy or is there a physiological explanation for their tendency to sleep until 11am?
It seems that, from the onset of puberty until the age of 21 in boys (19.5 in girls) there is a genuine physiological shift in their body clocks which results in a change in the pattern of the release of melanin into their bodies. At around 10am, the hormonal shift from sleep to wakefulness starts to kick in.
Kelly was talking about a school which plans to shift its school day to run from 11am-5pm instead of 9am-3pm.
Of course, there was an instant outcry from the listening public who opposed the idea. With the show being aired during working hours, you can imagine that the bulk of the listening demographic comprises pensioners, most of whom were thoroughly indignant, it seems. There was a lot of "When I were a lad" and "Never did me no 'arm". Teenagers were roundly criticised for being lazy and out of touch with the real world. Only one woman - the mother of 3 teenagers - dared support the idea.
If there is to be resistance to the concept, I would prefer to see it based on sound reasoning, rather than "that's 'ow it's allus bin done". One opponent did cite the logistical issues around teachers' working hours and child care issues, which would obviously have to be considered.
As the mother of two teenagers, and, as an erstwhile teenager myself, I would have to say that my observations are as follows:
- My husband and I have always been night owls, preferring to stay up late and sleep in, whenever possible. We're not teenagers any more (you'll be astonished to learn), so are we anomalous? On the other hand, we are able to rise at a 'respectable' hour and function normally, whereas it seems that teenagers demonstrate a quantifiable improvement in cognitive ability later in the day.
- Our elder son has also always been something of a night owl. Since he turned 16, he no longer has a bedtime. However, we do find it necessary to stick our heads around the door and say, "Erm, Sweetheart, it's almost midnight and you have a first session tomorrow. I suggest you get your tail into bed."
- Our younger son was the solitary lark in the family. While the rest of the family was deep in blissful slumber, he was ready to start the day with a smile and a twinkle. I have a niggling worry that our grunted "Unh-unh!" at him every morning has done damage to his psyche, since he lacks the easy self-assurance of his brother. Be that as it may, with the onset of puberty, even our lark has taken to lie-ins whenever possible.
As the interview progressed, I could picture in my occasionally photographic mind just about every exam timetable my kids have ever had. Almost without exception, the start time for their exams has been 9am. So not only do we have a ludicrous system for assessing a child's competence in any given subject, the mechanism is scheduled to take place at the worst possible time for our teens. Hmm.
From my own perspective, I have no problem with moving the teenager's day forward by two hours. Of course, I'm not a teacher, whose life would be disrupted by this change.