It’s 9 am and under the the cheap hue of white fluorescent light, a daily workforce of cataleptic creatures crane their necks over an excel spreadsheet. According to Dr. Paul Kelley of Oxford University, this is what society’s most prevalent form of torture looks like.
Dr. Kelley and a research team at the Sleep and Circadian Institute have confirmed something that has crossed everyone’s mind as they watched someone helplessly nod off on early morning public transit—a 9 am start is just fucking inhumane.
This is because the human body runs on a biological timers. They’re called circadian rhythms and they are genetically preprogrammed cycles that regulate human energy levels, brainwave activity and hormone production.
As Dr. Paul Kelley puts it in an interview, ‘We cannot change our 24-hour rhythms. You cannot learn to get up at a certain time…your liver and your heart have different patterns and you’re asking them to shift two or three hours.”
This is because the natural human rhythms evolved around sunlight—not the business strategies of the nation’s employers. In the late 18th century, the 8-hour work day was designed to maximize efficiency. But factory owners didn’t consider the body’s natural clock, they only thought about a 24/7 production schedule.
And though it might have appeared to maximize numbingly repetitive factory work, with the rise of technology and increasing number of jobs where you actually have to think, the 9am start time is completely backfiring.
As Kelley told the British Science Festival in Bradford, “We’ve got a sleep deprived society.” His prescription was to move start times forward to 10am and to test his theory he moved the start time of a British school forward from 8:30am to 10:00am. He wasn’t surprised when he saw grades improve by an average 19 per cent.
Companies who are forcing workers to start earlier than 10am are placing major stress on the emotional and physical systems of their employees and effectively contributing to long-term health problems and higher numbers of sick days. The societal prevalence of sleep deprivation is probably the reason why the average American consumes 3.1 nine-ounce cups of coffee a day. That’s 40 billion dollars a year spent annually by Americans to prevent drool from dripping onto their keyboard.
As Kelley puts it, “This is an international issue. Everybody is suffering and they don’t have to.”