I know the feeling. It’s Friday night and you fall in bed wanting nothing more than a full 12 hours of sleep. But when you wake up in the morning, it is still early and you’re even more tired than when you fell asleep. It seems impossible to sleep in!
Our society is all about the nightlife. Even after the sun goes down, our eyes are bombarded by a profusion of artificial light. Night after night, we stay up after hours to engage in the thousand different activities available — or maybe you’re part of those activities because you work the late shift at your job. Regardless, this repeated behavior has caused our body clocks to go completely haywire, resulting in fatigue at times when we need to be alert. But all hope is not lost for that much needed Saturday morning snooze.
I do want to take a moment to point out that sleeping in is not wrong. People tend to get a lot of flak these days for wanting to sleep more. In our culture, sleeping seems to be equated with laziness. This makes sense in the case of someone who sleeps all day and behaves sluggish when they are awake, but for those seeking a few extra — much needed hours of sleep, there’s nothing wrong with that. Scientists have concluded the optimum amount of sleep per night is 10 hours. The average sleep per night for an adult is only 6.8 hours. So we could all use a couple more hours here and there.
The percentage of sleep disorders and sleep studies has exploded since the early 2000’s. The problem has a lot to do with what they call ‘blue light’. It’s the culprit who steals your sleep right out from under you. It’s your phone, laptop, and TV which you use to entertain you at all hours of the day. This kind of artificial light reduces your melatonin levels to the point where, even if you’re tired, you won’t be able to fall asleep. Studies show that blue light can cause damage to your eyes over time.
Our bodies are timers. They use a range of chemicals and hormones to tell us when to get up, go to sleep, eat, poop etc. The name for our body clock that informs us when to go to sleep and wake up is called the circadian clock. When our bodies become tired, it is because our melatonin levels have risen — which usually starts a few hours before sleep — and our body begins to feel sleepy. Waking up is even more of a process for our body. About an hour before we wake up, our body temperature begins to drop and we begin to gain consciousness — gradually. Eventually, our body ‘s becomes fully alert and we wake up. If this happens to you early on a Saturday morning, it is pretty much too late. Of course, you might be able to fall back asleep but it will require not alerting your body further. You can’t make any noise (or hear it), move anything, or have any light shining in your eyes. I’m sure you’ve tried this — as I have — and noticed how ineffective it is. I wish there was a way to reset my body clock so that I can sleep when I’m tired, and be alert when I’m awake. Thankfully, there is a way.
The Circadian Clock is just one aspect of a vastly complex biological clock inside all of us. For a person’s body clock to be healthy, their melatonin levels need to rise enough to induce sleep, stay that way during the night, then decrease when the morning comes. Our clocks aren’t functioning properly if we are tired during the day and completely alert at night. These circadian timers are highly influenced by both sunlight and artificial light — this certainly includes blue light. However, our body rhythm is also affected just as equally by our genes. 15 of them to be exact. This explains why some people are night owls and others are early birds.
Reset your clock
There are a number of different methods used for re-dialing an out of rhythm circadian clock. Among these are light boxes and hormone supplements such as melatonin. Unfortunately, these approaches don’t address the underlying problem. There is a quite obvious solution, although it is widely unpopular. If we woke up and went to sleep with the sun, our body clock would readjust themselves accordingly. The artificial light we expose our eyes to at night — and during the day as well — are to blame for our ‘out of whack’ circadian clocks. Research done at the University of Colorado suggests the solution is simply a weekend camping trip. In their study, the people who had gone camping fell asleep 1.8 hours earlier than those who had not. For a week after they returned, the participants continued to fall asleep up to 1.4 hours earlier. Although the results do fade away over time, the principal of this short term solution gives way for a more long term answer. What is the principal? The people on the camping trip rose and rested with the sun, and did not use phones or any artificial light!
For those who already enjoy camping, this solution will be welcomed. If you’re thinking about it, I urge you to give it a try. Go on a little weekend camping trip somewhere and just enjoy the outdoors. It may not be attractive for some, but I would venture to say that — based on these results — restraining ourselves from blue light will do wonders for our sleep. Even if we only lose our electronics for half the day — or a few hours at dusk — major revisions in our body’s circadian clock are sure to happen.
Try this out for yourself and tell me how it works for you!