World over there is slow and consistent shift in the sleeping hours. In the 1980’s, by 9pm kids would be tucked in and within an hour parents too would retire for the day. Waking up time was around 6 to 7am, after a good 8 hours of sound sleep to recharge the body and the mind. With the dawn of the ‘Television’ era in the 1990’s, came the craze to watch the 10pm sitcoms, which pushed the average bedtime to 11pm for most people. Then came the millennium ushering the world into the ‘Internet’ era and soon waking up to midnight was pretty common due to longer working hours to suit time zones of different continents, longer commute due to heavier traffic, etc. Reaching home at 10-11pm became a routine for most of the employed, which drove the bedtime even further. And now, in 2010’s social media has one and all hooked so strongly to their cell-phones that even up to 1- 2 am, people are exchanging messages and commenting endlessly!
Thus, with bedtime being pushed from 9pm to 2am, it is but obvious that even the waking up time has been pushed. World over, people are finding it difficult to wake up early by 6 or 7 am. Is this trend good for us? Does sleep timing matter or is it only the duration of sleep that matters? Is there any truth in the age-old adage of ‘The Early Bird Catches The Worm’ or ‘Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’? Read on for scientific evidence on the same.
Importance of Sleep for Health:
Sleep is not a passive, dormant part of our daily lives. We now know that our brains are very active during sleep. Moreover, sleep affects our daily functioning and our physical and mental health in many ways. Sleep appears necessary for our nervous system to work properly. Too little sleep leaves us drowsy and unable to concentrate the next day. It also leads to impaired memory and poor physical performance and reduced ability to carry out mental work. If sleep deprivation continues, hallucinations and mood swings may develop. Some experts believe sleep gives neurons a chance to shut down and repair themselves. Deep sleep coincides with the release of growth hormone in children and young adults. Many of the body’s cells also show increased production and reduced breakdown of proteins during deep sleep. Since proteins are the building blocks needed for cell growth and for repair of damage from factors like stress and ultraviolet rays, deep sleep may truly be “beauty sleep.” Another important aspect of sleep is that when we sleep our brain can integrate new knowledge and form new associations. To put it simply, in waking hours we use and burn, while in sleep we restore and synthesize. The correct amount of sleep taken at the right time can make an enormous improvement to our well-being. But which is the right time?
Sleep and Circadian Rhythms:
Circadian rhythms are regular changes in mental, physical and behavioural characteristics that occur in the course of a day (circadian is Latin for “around a day”). These Circadian rhythms follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment. They are found in most living things, including humans, animals, plants and many tiny microbes. Our biological clocks drive our circadian rhythms. The biological clocks that control circadian rhythms are groupings of interacting molecules in cells throughout the body. A “master clock” in the brain coordinates all the body clocks so that they are in synch. The “master clock” that controls circadian rhythms consists of a group of nerve cells in the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN. The SCN contains about 20,000 nerve cells and is located in the hypothalamus area of the brain. Circadian rhythms are produced by natural factors within the body, but they are also affected by signals from the environment. Light is the main cue influencing circadian rhythms, turning on or turning off genes that control an organism’s internal clocks.
Circadian rhythms are important in determining human sleep patterns:
The body’s master clock, or SCN, controls the production of melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy. Since it is located just above the optic nerves, which relay information from the eyes to the brain, the SCN receives information about incoming light. When there is less light—like at night—the SCN tells the brain to make more melatonin so you get drowsy. The typical pattern of sleep urge is shown in the graph below. The sleep urge follows a natural circadian rhythm. It is greatest at night with a small increase at mid-day. Now, when we follow the signals given by the body and sleep accordingly, it is ideal for the system. But as outlined in earlier paragraphs, there is a great tendency to postpone the sleeping hour, due to changing lifestyles and sometimes due to biological changes.
For example, changes to this circadian rhythm occur during adolescence, when most teens experience a sleep phase delay. This shift in teens’ circadian rhythm causes them to naturally feel alert later at night, making it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11:00 pm. Since most teens have early school start times along with other commitments, this sleep phase delay can make it difficult to get the sleep teens need. From here, for most adults, begins the mis-match between ideal sleep time and ideal sleep duration.
Consquences of delaying sleeptime:
Unfortunately, no matter what time you go to bed, you have to wake up rather early so that you can go to school / college on time, go to office on time, get your work done in sync with others around you. So going to bed after 12 midnight means you are missing out on a few hours of your sleep. Instead of the desired 8 hours, you may be getting just 5-6 hours of sleep. Staying up late coupled with fewer hours of sound sleep can lead to many undesirable effects on your system. This can directly affect your mental state of the next day, make your skin prone to acne(as staying up late for a long time affects the secretion of the body). This habit also increases the risk of having a flu, gastrointestinal infections and allergies, as the immune system gets weaker. If the person has a tendency to sleep late and wake-up late, he may end up sleeping too much. Because of sleeping too much he may even reverse the biological clock and show a lack of energy, altered memory and miss breakfast too.
On the other hand, early birds have a great advantage to start their day with. They have greater time on their hand, that too after 8 hours of sound sleep. They wake up more cheerful, they have time for a proper breakfast. Studies have shown that their diet choices are healthier than those who wake up late. Late sleepers tend to snack at mid-night on junk food. They consume more calories, eat more fatty items and less of healthy fruits and vegetables than early risers. Further, late risers miss out on a very important daily activity, that is, exercise. They barely have time for a bath and dressing up. No breakfast, No exercise. Unlike this early risers make time for exercise. 20 minutes of morning workout can work wonders on anyone who practises it regularly. Early larks are also proactive and have a head start at work. Arriving early enables them to plan their work well and execute it more efficiently. With all this good going, research has also shown that early birds are less likely to suffer from depression. So, going to bed on time is the best way to preserve health.
In conclusion, some people do feel that they are ‘night-people’ while others are ‘morning-people’. Even if you are a night person, it is advisable to slowly shift your sleeping hours by 15 minutes and enjoy the benefits of those 15 minutes in the morning. You can eat healthy, enjoy a jog or a swim, listen to pleasant music and begin the day with cheer. What do you say now? Do you agree that, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’?