For many of us, waking up early is difficult. Yet we try to do it. Why? Because everyone seems to be doing it. Everyone tells us that it’s good for us. Our work demands it of us. Society demands it of us. We are told in order to be successful we need to rise early. And so we feel pressured. We feel guilty. We suck it up. We obey this norm. But this is wrong.
Some of us are night owls. We are at our most productive at night; when it’s peaceful and there are no distractions. We enjoy rising later to account for our unique habits. And this is fine. Everyone is different. No one person is the same. It’s time then to stop feeling guilty because of what society regards as normal. What is normal anyway? Normal is relative.
The next time someone mentions the importance of rising early – mention that there is a growing body of research highlighting that we are in a sleep deprivation crisis and that rising later is better to allow for our unique body clock.
We are in a sleep deprivation crisis
Society is in the midst of a sleep deprivation crisis as we force ourselves to adapt to working hours that are not in sync with our Circadian rhythms (natural body clock that regulates the timing of sleeplessness and wakefulness):
“At the age of 10 you get up and go to school and it fits in with our nine-to-five lifestyle. When you are about 55 you also settle into the same pattern. But in between it changes a huge amount and, depending on your age, you really need to be starting around three hours later, which is entirely natural.” – Dr Paul Kelley (Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford), The Guardian.
The biggest age group affected is 14-24-year-olds. This has far reaching implications for our health. Kelley says the following, speaking to the Telegraph:
‘It is hugely damaging on the body’s systems because you are affecting physical, emotional and performance systems in the body…”
Kelley goes on to say that sleep deprivation can lead to exhaustion, frustration, anxiety, weight gain, high blood pressure, poor long term memory and can even improve chances of stimulant (alcohol) use and risk-taking.
Proposed 10:00am work starts, backed by science
As a result, Kelley advocates 08:30 am starts (or later) for 10-year-olds, 10am starts for 16-year-olds and 11:00 am starts for 18-year-olds. Not only does he recommend a change among the younger generation, he also recommends that staff should start work at 10:00 am as they are often sleep deprived – which directly affects their health, performance and output. All this does have scientific backing.
We all have melatonin – a hormone that assists in regulating our body clock. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers don’t start releasing this hormone until nearly 11 o’clock at night. The hormones pumps through our blood during the night and into the late morning.This makes it difficult for teenagers to rise early.
Neuroscientists also say that teenagers are geared towards going to bed at midnight and only feel fully functional by 09:00-10:00am the next morning. In a pilot study conducted by Kelley himself who was formerly a head teacher at Monkseaton Middle School, starting hours were moved from 08:30-10:00 am. There was a marked increased in the improvement of grades by 19%. Kelley is currently part of a wider study, involving 100 schools across Britan where they are experimenting with different start times. The study which started in 2014 will end in 2018.
What this all means
The effects of sleep deprivation are real. Society needs to consider revising work and school start times to allow for us to follow our natural body clock. For 10-year old’s the current start times fit into a 9-5 lifestyle, with people returning to this pattern in their mid 50’s. For everyone else in between, later start times needs to be considered.
This is especially evident among teenagers who have a distinctly different body clock from adults. And for adults, the demands of work and the “rat-race” imply that companies need to re-consider their times – as this not only affects the health, performance and output of employees but ultimately the bottom line of companies.
And for the night owls. Each of us is different. Waking up later is natural. it’s part of our biological clock. Stop feeling guilty about it. Start feeling good about the fact that you have known and have been doing all along, what experts are increasingly advocating.