Wanted: Planet with longer rotational period

It’s not just me. A lot of people whom I know in person or via the internet have complained about near-futility of trying to get to sleep earlier at a “reasonable” time, meaning one that would give a person enough hours of sleep before having to rise for the next day.

My children and I can’t get to sleep before 11 p.m. unless we’ve been hit by dire viruses, or else have simply stayed up the entire night. In contrast, hubby can retire early and then go from laying down to snoring in less than five minutes, and we’re all mystified at how he manages this! Obviously, such a somnolent physiology was not something our children inherited from dad.

While our young adults have endeavoured to find college classes that start later in the morning (not unlike the majority of college students out there), I myself do not have the luxury of that option. I’m expected to be at the school at 7:30, which means leaving at 7:00. (In reality, I need to leave by 7:10, but I keep aiming for 7:00 to give me the necessary buffer in my nutz ADHD distractedness.)  Given the zombie-like staggering arthritic stiffness and mental sluggishness of my morning routine, I need to roll out of bed at 6. Now that really isn’t an unusual time for working folks to get up, but my problem is that for most of my life I’ve not been able to get to sleep until midnight, even when I’ve put myself to bed by 10 p.m.

Part of that delay was due to the fact that the stupid motor tics (“Tourette’s lite”) would repeatedly cause me to wake up just as I was mentally drifting into that nonsense-chatter of early sleep. Now I take a little Clonidine in the evening, and that has made a world of difference for me, tics-wise. (It makes me too dopey to take it during the day, but the daytime ticcing is minor and not a problem.)

So here we are, wide-awake and on our “second wind” both mentally and physically in the late evening. Any of us could readily stay awake and not be ready for sleep until the wee hours of the next day. The problem then is that to get a full period of sleep, no one would be getting up until the afternoon. And then on this second day there’s that long wakeful period, and things get even further out of synch …

People who have such problems may be medically referred to having “Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome” (DSPS).  This is described as where someone both goes to sleep late and wakens late because their circadian rhythm is out of order.  Some people take melatonin in the evening to aid their sleep, and this is sometimes described as being really helpful by the chronically sleep-deprived parents of super-night-owl autistic children.  (Ask your doctor; I’m not licensed to practice medicine.) Light therapy is also sometimes recommended for inducing entrainment (synchronisation); this involves being exposed to bright light in the morning, but not in the evening.  Sometimes depression can co-occur with DSPS, which is hardly surprising because chronic sleep deprivation does all sorts of things to neurotransmitters, and feeling inefficient and groggy all morning also doesn’t help one’s work ability or self-esteem.

Modern life with artificial lighting, and exciting distractions like mounds of really good books, DVDs, the internet, or just the hyperactive ADHD brain that just keeps thinking and thinking about random stuff, all work against the daylight effects upon circadian rhythm.

When the family was on holiday in the UK for a couple of weeks, I figured that the time difference and jetlag would mean that the kids could finally get to sleep on time.  But was I ever wrong!  After a couple of days, the three of us were once again living in the “wrong time zone” of wanting to be up late.  The fact that the summer sun sets late during in Scotland certainly didn’t help, either.  That’s when I finally realised that no matter what, we were all night-owls, doomed to be awake and sleepy at all the wrong times, no matter where we were.  (Teh suckage!)

A number of research studies have shown that both photoperiod (the “zeitgeber”) and social schedules help keep people’s circadian rhythms in order.  In a polar study, it was found that the latter can sometimes over-ride the former, but may also cause problems. In other studies, when research subjects are given “timeless” environments for long periods, their bodies will still stay within 24 1/2 to 26 hour periods (albeit their personal perceptions of time may seem slower or faster, as as everyone’s do in clocked and natural light conditions). But those studies may not have had such atypical subjects as us. For some of us, neither daylength nor social environments seem to be sufficient to keep our circadian rhythms in synch with the rest of the world.

Daylight Savings Time in the U.S. (Summer Time in the UK) certainly does nothing to help anyone’s circadian rhythms by setting the clocks forward an hour in the spring and then back again in the fall. (“Spring forward and fall back.”)  It messes up work and learning efficiency for days, if not weeks, and now that nearly all of society uses artificial lighting for work, there’s less benefit economically, aside from evening sports schedules in grounds without field lights.  There are some areas, such as the states of Arizona and Hawaii that don’t even follow DST.  The lost hour in the spring is the worse part to deal with; I can’t get to sleep on time generally, and suddenly making it an hour later on the clock doesn’t help!  Getting that hour back in the fall is nice, but that benefit doesn’t last past the one day.

But what if we were not constrained by this diem brevis?  As my friend Liam once pointed out, what we really need is a planet with a 36-hour day – that way we would have all the awake time and asleep time that we need, without being out of synch with the rest of society.  Imagine what-all we could get done!


  1. shiva said,

    15 October 2008 at 21:54

    This is SO me. I can’t get to sleep before midnight in any circumstances, and left to my own devices (ie with nothing specific to get up for) i tend to settle into a routine of sleeping from roughly 4-5am til 12-1pm. Although i seem to be functioning OK now getting up at roughly 8.30 for work (4 days a week) and going to bed around midnight (but still find myself staying up til 2-3am on the nights when i don’t have to get up in the morning).

    I also really, really hate the summer/winter time thing, although it’s the change in the autumn (due next weekend in the UK, i think) that hits me hardest, because it means that it’s dark for the majority of the time that i’m awake. If anything, i would rather that it changed the other way (although i’d probably most prefer it not to change at all, and don’t see any actual logical reason for it to change).

    I believe there is a campaign against DST in the US – i will try to find the website. (I think i blogged about it around this time last year…)

    I could totally do the XKCD thing, if i didn’t work the same hours on 4 days per week. I think if my circumstances change (eg if i become a full time student again next year) i might try it…

    I am *certain* that DSPS is an autistic thing (not for every autistic person, but that it is caused by the autistic neurotype in many cases – i associate it with not wanting or liking change, so wanting to stay awake when awake, and to stay asleep when asleep)…

  2. qw88nb88 said,

    15 October 2008 at 2:51

    Patrick, yes, Melatonin! Thanks for catching that. Need more sleep…

  3. Patrick said,

    14 October 2008 at 19:27

    And I think what people take to help get to sleep is Melatonin, versus serotonin. Glad to hear that the sleep study was negative for OSA at least.

  4. andrea said,

    14 October 2008 at 2:29

    Yes, I had a sleep study, and my breathing is fine. But thanks for checking!

  5. SplatShadow said,

    13 October 2008 at 22:26

    I am so glad to see that there are other people that are bemoaning this re-accuring disruption to the time stream.

    This time change so disrupts my own already out of wack personal clock that it often takes me six to eight weeks to adjust. Meaning that 3 to 4 months of the year I’m off due to an arbetrary change.

    This time I’ve desided to try something new. Over the course of 4 Sundays that occur prior to November 2nd, I am falling back a quarter of an hour each week. Adjusting my schedule throughout the day to allow for the quarter hour change. This, I do, in hope of being free of the inertia and disjointedness that usually comes with the daylight savings changes.

    I will of course drive my son and husband up the walls during the 4 week pre-adjustment period, but I’ve explained that its something i’d like to try and thankfully they are on board.

    I have survived the first week, managing to be ontime (but barely so), to most of my meetings and engagements. I was only late to one meeting, and I was able to call ahead. if it works out then I will try it in reverse in the spring.

  6. 13 October 2008 at 20:46

    XKCD suggests:

    http:/ /www .xkcd.com/320/

    With the disclaimer, ‘this schedule will eventually drive one stark raving mad’ of course.

  7. 13 October 2008 at 10:50

    i want one of those too…

  8. 13 October 2008 at 10:46

    I don’ wanna go to bed!!! I might miss something cool.

  9. diddums said,

    13 October 2008 at 9:36

    “The fact that the summer sun sets late during in Scotland certainly didn’t help, either. That’s when I finally realised that no matter what, we were all night-owls, doomed to be awake and sleepy at all the wrong times, no matter where we were.”

    That might explain why I’m a hopeless night-owl myself, as I live in Scotland. The trouble is, when I go to bed I don’t want to just drop off… I have to read a book, write a letter or just think. Because if I just turn off the light, no matter how tired I am, I can’t get to sleep right away.

    I’d love a 36 hour day… though they do say, when we get more time, everything expands to fill it. They would probably make us work longer, and we would still be grumbling about there not being enough hours in the day.

  10. Amanda said,

    13 October 2008 at 8:54

    My sleep isn’t even night-owlish. It’s just random. WAY too random. And not in a good way.

  11. yanub said,

    13 October 2008 at 6:27

    Oh, someone to join me in my hatred of Daylight Savings Time! If there’s a national campaign to eradicate it, I’d like to know, because I would donate to the cause.

    I’m like you on not being able to go sleep, usually, at a “decent” hour. I’ve always tended to fall asleep between 2 and 4 am. The past year, I’ve been working a schedule that allows me to get up around 10 am, and it has been wonderful not being chronically sleep deprived. The same sleeping schedule is dominant in my family, too. When my mom and I lived in the same town, she often called at 11 pm to see if I was bored enough to go to Walmart with her to kill a couple hours.

  12. Suzanne said,

    13 October 2008 at 5:54

    Have you had s sleep study? My sleep has been much closer to acceptable in the twelve months since I got a CPAP machine.

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