Brighten Youth Education Centre




It’s not nice is it? That glazed look many audiences, from the very young to the very venerable, seem to develop after lunch. Nobody wants to give that first class or presentation after midday. You’re lucky if you don’t glimpse at least one person fighting heavy eyelids. Well, recent findings from the UK challenge these misgivings, at least in primary school children. A study by the University of Oxford and the BBC contradicts current thinking and suggests that students aged between nine and eleven have quicker reaction times and are more alert in the afternoon. However, many schools presently design their timetables based on the assumption that children are more capable of learning in the morning, and so receive math and literacy lessons before lunch.

The study involved thousands of children across the UK and was conducted as part of BBC Terrific Scientific (, a project that aims to involve children in scientific research. Participants were asked to keep a sleep diary for three days; they also underwent tests aimed at gaging their tiredness and reaction times in the morning and afternoon. The study was conducted before and after UK clocks were changed. Students were more responsive in the afternoon before and after the change, but after clocks changed, sleep time increased by thirty minutes and students reported feeling less sleepy, contrary to expectations.

Of the children who took part in the study, 68% described themselves as an “evening person”, with greater alertness and energy later in the day. The researchers at the centre of the study, Dr Katharina Wulff ( and Dr Christopher-James Harvey ( of the University of Oxford, analysed data from over 900 students, a representative sample of UK schoolchildren aged between nine and eleven. “Results were surprising in two ways,” said Wulff. “First, that children slept longer after the clock change, and second, their reaction time was faster in the afternoon than in the morning.”

So are there any potential problems here? Are those who are night owls likely to perform differently to their early bird peers over the course of their schooling? Currently, there is simply not enough data to draw such conclusions. However, variation might not be such a bad idea. If maths lessons come in the morning on Monday, place them in the afternoon on Tuesday. Group tasks, PE lessons and other social activities that students feel enthusiastic about might also be placed in the morning, reviving pupils during their natural down-time, particularly as few of these tasks require intense focus. An overhaul of the timetable is not always possible for numerous pragmatic reasons, but some adjustment may be possible. It seems that kids, like many of the rest of us, just want a bit of a lie-in.


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