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!