New Ideas About Sleep

I am a night owl. Sure, I get up early because I have to for important things like flights, a hungry cat, and work. But it doesn’t mean I like it.

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I’ve never cared that the early bird gets the worm. Have at it! I roll my eyes when I talk to friends who, on a Saturday morning, will have already gone to the gym, grocery store, and organized their closest by the time I’m standing in my mismatched pajamas rummaging through my cupboard for coffee beans.

Know thyself. I get a lot done from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and then, even later in the evening, when all is quiet in my world. It’s just the way I’m built along with many others.

Which brings me to this article. Titled “Scientists Say That Starting Work Before 10 a.m. Is Similar To Torture” it shows how society - especially schools - aren’t built to suit our Circadian Rhythm.

Dr. Paul Kelley is a researcher at Oxford University’s Sleep and Circadian Institute. “Having to wake up and go to work before 10 o’clock in the morning is one of the most common forms of torture,” he said.

He explained that people cannot change their 24-hour rhythms (yes, you can manipulate it, but you’re still going against your own nature). Your liver and your heart have different patterns and prolonged circadian misalignment has been linked to serious metabolic dysfunction and a host of other adverse health effects. Shift workers beware.). The Circadian Rhythm, known as the internal body clock, represents biological timers that dictate the way our body functions. This is genetically coded and regulates or perception of time, energy levels, brain function, and hormone production.

Monkseaton High School. Photo courtesy: Devereux Architects.

Monkseaton High School. Photo courtesy: Devereux Architects.

The eight-hour work day was introduced early in the 20th century. The number of 24/7 businesses has increased as our demand for convenience grows. The natural human body clock was never once considered. Can’t handle getting up early? Then you’re lazy. Conversely – can’t stay up late to work? Then you’re a wimp.

Sleep deprivation is a very real problem across the world. It leads to physical, emotional, and performance issues.

It starts in the teenaged years, as teenagers are biologically predisposed to go to sleep around midnight. This means they aren’t really awake until 10 a.m. Since most schools start at around 8 a.m. teenagers lose an average of 10 hours of sleep a week.

A British school took these findings and tested them. Monkseaton High School in North Tyneside, UK, where Kelley was a head teacher at the time, implemented a later start from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. in 2009. The results: grades across the board increased by 19 per cent, and students’ attendance and general productivity increased as well.

Kelley’s coworker, professor Colin Epsie, said that looking at the neuroscience of sleep is something we’ve only recently been considering.

“We know something funny happens when you’re a teenager, in that you seem to be out of sync with the world,” he told the Telegraph newspaper. “Your parents think it’s because you’re lazy and opinionated and everything would be ok if you could get to sleep earlier. But science is telling us that teenagers need to sleep more in the mornings.”

This pattern stays the same until the age of around 21 for males and 19 for females.

We wonder how long it will take until society takes human nature into full account.

 In the meantime, a great get-to-sleep system for you to try:

Researchers suggest using the 4-7-8 method to trick your body into sleep. It works because it delivers more oxygen than regular breathing to the parasympathetic nervous system which becomes overstimulated during times of stress.

To practice this technique, pioneered by Harvard-trained holistic health doctor Andrew Weil, all you have to do is:

  • Touch the ridge of tissue behind your top teeth with your tongue and exhale completely.

  • Breathe in through your noise quietly for a count of four.

  • Hold your break for a count of seven

  • Blow air out through your mouth for a count of eight (making a “whoosh” sound)

  • Repeat three more times.