Should teenagers be allowed to sleep in?
This week I heard an interesting debate on the radio between Guy Holloway, head teacher at Hampton Court House and Anna May Mangan.
He is planning to let his students start at 1.30 in the afternoon, using research on sleep and learning to improve things for his students. She’s completely against it because it means they will be staying in bed all morning.
I personally have always hated getting up early, but would I be right to let my daughter sleep in? (Thank goodness she doesn’t read these blogs….)
Teenagers, sleep and learning
Probably about 15 years ago at several different neuroscience conferences I heard evidence presented that teenagers would do far better at school if they didn’t have to get up early.
This is because their circadian rhythm is different to that of adults (and everyone else it would seem). Making teenagers get up to start school at 8.30 or 9am is actually detrimental to their learning.
So I was very pleased to hear Guy Holloway (GuyHolloway_HCH), head teacher at Hampton Court House, speaking on BBC Radio announce that he was going to change the hours for his sixth form students.
At last, someone who is prepared to be guided by the research and help people to learn more easily as a result.
One hour makes a difference
The research I heard about found that even letting these students start school an hour later had a significant impact on their learning. Guy Holloway is starting school for them at 1.30.
However, as always the BBC likes to have someone with an opposing view, so they broadcast this interesting news as a discussion between Guy and Anna May Mangen, self-confessed ‘pushy mother’ (author of ‘Getting into Medical School – The Pushy Mother’s Guide’ and a seriously understated title if her radio appearance is anything to go by).
“The students must be dullards”
She said the students at Hampton Court “must be dullards” because they are not doing any of the additional things that students would typically do if they were allowed to sleep away the morning and learn into the evening.
I was fascinated but not surprised to note how she did not seem in the least interested in the research, but instead seemed to assume that the working these hours would automatically not be taking part in any other extra curricular activities.
She thought that these students were being robbed of an opportunity to do well by letting them stay in bed.
This was not what Guy Holloway was saying at all. He just believes in teenagers getting 9 hours sleep.
Anna May Mangen seemed to be unaware that even if you have 9 hours in bed that still leaves you with 15 other hours in the day (or night). Perhaps arithmetic isn’t her strong point. Or it may be she has a very fixed idea of how you can use the hours of the day and exactly what you can do when.
She told us that son had served breakfast in a hospice and these students would not be able to do that. And that is true. However, she seemed oblivious to the possibility of other duties in the evenings that they would be perfectly well able to perform.
Sleep and learning research
Sleep and learning are very closely related. If you don’t get enough sleep your ability to learn drops, because learning, sleep and memory are so closely linked.
I once saw Allan Hobson (researcher and author of ‘Sleep’) lecturing about sleep and learning. He had carried out research where he paid students to play Tetris for 8 hours a day. Some were allowed a full night’s sleep; others were not. The next day those who had got the full night’s sleep had improved their level of skill to above that of the previous day. Those who had not had a good night’s sleep had a reduced level of skill compared to that of the previous day.
Yes, you are actually improving your skills while you are asleep.
To his horror, when Allan Hobson tried his own regimen on himself he found no improvement the next morning. It transpires that as you get older, you need several nights of good sleep to achieve the same results. It took him three days (I think he was in his 30s at that time).
Driving and sleep
Given that you are statistically much more likely to have an accident if you drive between midnight and 5am, when you are really meant to be asleep, it’s hardly surprising that learning when you are supposed to be asleep might also be impaired.
Sleep is very important for learning and memory
If you want to improve your learning and memory, first check if you are getting enough sleep. It makes a huge difference.
Here is a link to some of the research as mentioned by Guy Holloway on Radio 4.
Dr Paul Kelly (researcher)