The study will look at whether starting lessons later, and educating students about the benefits of sleep, can boost GCSE marks. The Oxford University trial is among six projects to investigate how neuroscience could improve education in the UK.
Other experiments include examining whether pupils do better when there is an element of chance in their reward for answering a question correctly and the impact of physical activity on academic results.
Colin Espie, a professor of sleep medicine at Oxford University, said: “What we’re doing in the study is exploring the possibility that if we actually delay the school start time until 10am, instead of 9am or earlier, that additional hour taken on a daily dose over the course of a year will actually improve learning, performance, attainment and in the end school leaving qualifications.”
About 31,800 pupils aged 14 to 16 at 106 schools will take part in the study, with the main trial lasting two years. In the first year, one group of pupils will be given sleep education and the other will not. In the second year, a group of students will start lessons at 10am, one will receive sleep education, a third will receive both and a fourth group will have neither.
Sleep education will highlight the benefits of getting a good night’s rest, such as being more likely to win a place on a sports team if in top form and appearing more attractive to the opposite sex, the researchers suggested.