How Does Your Body Clock Respond To Shorter Days?
Despite the clocks having changed for the so-called purpose of ‘daylight saving’, it hasn’t done much for me personally in obscuring the noticeable onset of the shorter, darker days of the coming winter.
This seasonal change has brought to my attention once more the important consideration about sleep. Specifically how our sleep duration and quality affects not only our physical performance but all aspects of our lives.
The other night I noticed I was starting to feel sleepier and ready for bed earlier than usual. I justified to myself (as we do) it was due to the earlier onset of darkness in the evening, that’s all. It got me thinking - should I consider going to bed earlier in line with this shift in season?
Such a change in routine doesn’t really suit me because despite the change in season my daily routine and commitments have not changed. Therefore how would it benefit me, or be possible, to try and live more in rhythm with the environment. That is the ‘natural world’ environment, not my local in-home environment where multiple devices are contributing to the excess of ‘blue light’ in our living room. Such light in the blue end of the spectrum just so happens to be the type that does an effective job at disrupting our natural body clocks.
Scientists from Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Manchester and Surrey universities have stated that society has become "supremely arrogant" in ignoring the importance of sleep.
Modern life seems persistent in making sure we don’t follow any pattern of natural light-dark sleep patterns - ie. waking when it gets light and going to sleep soon after darkness falls.
If our 4 billion year evolutionary history is anything to go on we would accept that we have evolved under a light-dark cycle, resting during the night and more active in the day.
Scientists suggest that living against this cycle has damaging consequences for our long-term health. The main issue being that such potential damage is not immediate and so in our ‘urgent/ instant response’ modern mindset we have the tendency to give less attention to issues that have almost no visible influence in the short term.
To be clear, I’m not referring to a single night, or even a few, with significant sleep loss. This of course will cause noticeable negative effects. I’m talking about the situation where most of us could probably recognise where we’ve squeezed an extra hour or two into our days, at the expense of those hours rather being spent in restorative sleep.
One or two less sleep hours a night doesn’t seem to make a big difference the next day. But, considering our days are busier and more prone to stressful distractions than ever before, this loss of sleep over the longer term is surely going to contribute to overall fatigue. Speaking from personal experience, when fatigue creeps up on us the day to day commitments and distractions become heavier to handle. It’s a slippery slope from there onwards.
What to do
Of all the recommendations for improving sleep quality I find the one single action that is most effective is to limit use of technology and devices in the evening. ‘Switching off’ before dinner and staying disconnected until morning, although requiring some discipline, has a noticeably positive effect.
The BBC shares a fun and visual resource for viewing the typical body clock cycles in a slideshow format. Using the top menu bar tabs you can also choose ‘Take the Quiz’ for a short Q&A to discover if you are an Owl or a Lark - here
Timing medication to your body clock
Knowing your natural body clock, whether you are an Owl or a Lark, can have wider implications than simply going to bed at your preferred time.
There seems to be growing interest in chronotherapy - the science behind administering medical treatment in line with circadian rhythms. Application for the treatment of cancer and rheumatoid arthritis are cited in the following article:
All of this news and information urges me to reconsider my sleep pattern and what 'stuff' in my life is potentially impacting it.
Image courtesy of ‘stockimages’ / FreeDigitalPhotos.net