Thursday, 10 September 2015


When I was in sixth form I had a friend who suffered from depression. She dealt with it in two ways: eating and sleeping. The first led to her gradually changing from a slender 16 year old to a roly-poly 18 year old. The second, which I think she had even less control over, led to her disappearing from time to time and our finding her curled up asleep in a chair in the sixth form common room or at the back of the Modern Languages stock cupboard. She knew she was less likely to be disturbed in the stock cupboard than in the common room. 

I was reminded of this when I read a report about sleep patterns and the suggestion that schools and work places should stagger their starting and finishing times to accommodate the sleep patterns of different age groups. Our natural waking time changes according to our age, say the scientists who study such things. 10 year olds naturally wake at about 6.30am, 16 year olds at 8.00 and 18 year olds at 9.00. So it's fine for the younger children to start school at 9.00 but maybe sixth formers should start at 11.00!!! Fancy giving students a science-based excuse for missing nine o'clock lectures! 

By the time we are in our mid-fifties we normally have reverted to our 10 year old selves' waking pattern, which they say is why work places and schools run on a 9 to 5 schedule. The day is organised to suit the managers, usually over 50 years old. 

Nobody has told my husband that he should naturally be waking at 6.30 these days and indeed should have been doing so for the last 10 years at least. He must be in touch with his inner adolescent as he still works best if he stays up late and gets up late. As for me, I have always woken early and find it hard to stay asleep once it's light. 

And the scientists say that light has a lot to do with it. The eye registers the presence of light and sends messages to the brain, or something like that. So why don't people in Scandinavian countries sleep a lot more than those in Mediterranean countries? And what about people who sleep in ligh-proof rooms? Should they stay asleep for years? 

I think the scientists perhaps need to research it a little more but they are almost certainly right that many of us are sleep deprived one way or another. And no doubt the world would be a happier place if we all get enough sleep on a regular basis and se were more alert the rest of the time. But the bit of me that has done timetabling in the past rebels at the idea of organising a time table to suit the sleep needs of different age-groups of pupils and staff. The logistics of it would be crazy. give me the most complicated Sudoku puzzle any day!

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