• Question: What does research say is the best time of day for the brain to work? Is there a best time? What can schools do to optimise this?

    Asked by Dawn on 20 Apr 2015.
    • Photo: Joseph Devlin

      Joseph Devlin answered on 20 Apr 2015:

      I’m not aware of a universal best time for brains — I rather suspect it varies considerably across individuals. Having said that, the science is fairly clear that teenagers don’t function that well early in the morning because of changes to their sleep cycles that occur during adolescence. There is a new study being conducted by Professor Russell Foster, Director of the Oxford University Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute and Professor Colin Espie, Professor of Sleep Medicine. They will lead a trial of later school start times, along with a sleep education programme, to assess their impact on teenagers’ educational achievement. They have a good blog post about this at: https://thinkneuroscience.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/the-neuroscience-of-sleep-and-circadian-rhythms-in-adolescent-learning/

      Hopefully others can provide more details.

    • Photo: Kathrin Cohen Kadosh

      Kathrin Cohen Kadosh answered on 20 Apr 2015:

      This is an excellent question!
      Unfortunately though, the best time varies greatly for each individual and there is some scientific evidence to suggest that the larks and owls distinction is actually not just a myth.

      So, while there might not be a best time to schedule specific classes (other than trying to find a compromise between very early and very late time slots for these classes), it would be important to drive home the importance of getting enough sleep so that the brain can function well. This is especially important during adolescence where studies have shown that adolescents don’t seem to get enough sleep and that a decrease in sleeping hours is associated with poorer educational outcomes.

    • Photo: Colin Espie

      Colin Espie answered on 29 Apr 2015:

      well let me give you a thought-provoking answer.
      the best time for the brain to work efficiently is probably during sleep.
      in the absence of parallel stimulation/ perception/ selective attention etc. etc. the brain sets about all its tasks.
      the brain is much smarter than you are! it doesn’t need you to be awake and to be deliberate about everything you do. you breathe without effort and the brain works perfectly well without you – sometimes better because it is not distracted
      what schools can do is educate students about the primary importance of sleep for health and wellbeing – including cognitive and emotional wellbeing.
      there are few if any things more damaging to concentration memory and performance than insufficient sleep