A leading academic has called for dramatic changes to be made to working hours to stop children and adults from being forced to function in a “sleep-deprived society”, which is tantamount to torture.
Dr Paul Kelley, of Oxford University's Sleep and Circadian Institute, said that an adult’s circadian rhythm is out of tune with regular 9 to 5 working hours until they are 55 - around a decade before the end of the average working life.
The circadian rhythm determines sleep-wake patterns over 24 hour periods, and is driven by exposure to light entering the eyes. Via a non-visual pathway to the brain, the system regulates a host of biological mechanisms and genes.
As patterns change at different ages and workers “cannot change” their 24-hours rhythms, adults become exhausted and ill, he told the British Science a Festival in Bradford.
Similarly, children and teenagers do not function correctly as the latter should start and end the day later than either young children or middle aged adults.
“By the time you are 20, 19 or 18 you're getting up and going to sleep up to three hours later. It's natural and uncontrollable in the sense that you cannot change it," he said.
Describing the problem as an “international issue,” Dr Kelley said that current patterns are "hugely damaging" and affect “physical, emotional and performance systems”.
Such patterns increase the risk of diabetes and schizophrenia, said Dr Kelley, adding that it was no coincident that 70 per cent of mental illnesses start between the ages of around 11 and 24.
A societal change could see students improve their grades, and boost the health and output of employees, Dr Kelley suggested.
"Sleep deprivation is a torture. Thirty days without sleep and you die. It has about the same effect as not eating," he said.
"Staff should start at 10am. You don't get back to [the 9am] starting point until 55. Staff are usually sleep-deprived. We've got a sleep-deprived society."
10 best sleeping gadgets
10 best sleeping gadgets
1/10 Philips Hue GU10 Connected Bulb Starter Pack
Use your Android or iPhone to change the colour of these Wi-Fi-connected light bulbs, casting a soothing blue before bed. They also have an alarm setting so you can use them instead of an alarm clock or, alternatively, use the dimmer setting to ease you off in the evening. £179.95, johnlewis.com
2/10 Glo to Sleep
An eyemask with a difference, this one has a strip of gradually fading blue lights which you focus on, slowly rolling your eyes upwards - engaging sleep. No batteries or wires are needed; instead the blue strips power up just by being held towards a light source for 30 seconds. £31.97, amazon.co.uk
3/10 The Alarming Clock
This clock’s face is hidden on its underside so those “clock watching” nights will soon become a thing of the past. The real boon here, though, is that it has an evening alarm, which lets you know when to begin winding down in order to develop a more defined sleep routine. Plus, the morning alarm is based on a woodpecker which is much more relaxing than loud sirens emanating from your phone. £125, alarmingindustries.co.uk
4/10 Boon Glo Nightlight
This is a nightlight for kids with three removable balls which can be picked up and taken with them around the house. Perfect for that night-time trip to the bathroom or for anyone who happens to be scared of the dark. £42.99, amazon.co.uk
Wake up to the soothing question, ‘Would you like me to pop the kettle on?’ on your phone from this Wi-Fi-connected kettle. It has four different temperatures and a keep-warm setting, as well as an auto-shut-off mode for when you’ve forgotten to refill. Works with Android and iPhone. £99.99, firebox.com
Plug any Android or iPhone into the headphone jack, load up the app and play relaxing music straight from the pillow into the back of your head. It uses bone-conducting technology so no headphones are required. £107, dreampadsleep.com
7/10 Fitbit Flex
You can track your sleep patterns with the Flex using the mobile and online dashboards, as well as tracking your activity during the day. Find out how long you spend in deep REM sleep – and then adjust your day accordingly. £69.99, argos.co.uk
8/10 Lumie Bodyclock Active 250
Wake up to the rising sun, rather than a jolting beep, every morning with the Lumie. At night you can head to bed to a sunset – it has six different light levels - and the relaxing sound of an ocean shore. £89.99, firebox.com
If you don’t need all the palava that comes with the activity monitoring of the Flex, the iOS Sleep Cycle app might be the thing for you. It monitors your movements as you sleep and finds the best time to wake you up within a 30-minute window. £0.69, itunes.com
Psychologists have long claimed that certain scents help you to fall asleep. Use the app to shower the room in a puff of lavender. The capsule can use different scents and hues of light to aid the nodding-off process. £48 for starter kit, scentee.com
Dr Kelley recently launched the biggest study yet into the effects of different starting hours on children.
The team are asking 100 schools across the country to come forward to take part in the study, which will see ten year olds starting at 9am and 15 year olds starting at 10am.
“The science of it says they will perform better,” said Dr Kelley. “They will sleep more, they'll have less stress and anxiety, and a lower rate of drug up-take both legal and illegal. I can't predict how much it will improve their GCSE results but I would put money on it being a statistically significant positive change.”
He added: “The opportunities are fantastic .. we have the opportunity to do something that will benefit millions, billions of people on Earth.”
Additional reporting by PA
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