We all know that sleep is important.
What we can never seem to find out is how much or how little. Scientists have been arguing about it for years!
But it turns out, we may have been asking the wrong question.
It’s not so much a matter of how much you sleep as it is when you sleep.
If you wake up tired every morning, have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, or just generally feel unrested, the secret to sleep may lie in your circadian clock.
I’ll tell you.
Your circadian clock, in case you’ve forgotten your childhood health classes, is your internal biological clock—not the scary long one that decides when you get old—the one that tells you when you’re tired, hungry, or wide awake.
Turns out, our internal clocks are pretty good at keeping time.
They run on a 24-hour loop that lines up with the rise and set of the sun (because something had to tell us to get up and go to work before alarm clocks).
Our circadian clocks are automatically programmed to wake us up in the daylight hours.
How does this work?
When it’s time to wake up, our bodies release a series of hormones, the most prevalent among them cortisol.
You can think of cortisol as your body’s natural version of caffeine. It jolts your system awake every morning and lets you know that it’s time for breakfast and work.
However, even though our clocks are naturally set to the sun, life has the ability to mess with that rhythm. It’s like on a real clock—eventually the wear and tear slow the hands down, and you have to rewind it.
But we aren’t taught to wind our internal clocks, and that may be the secret behind the sleepy state of the masses today.
With scientists changing their mind about theories behind REM and NREM sleep, the amount of sleep we should get every night, and the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of playing catch-up when you lose sleep, it’s no wonder we aren’t worried about what time we go to sleep and wake up.
In our fast-paced world of work, technology, and general life constantly happening, only about 20% of Americans report maintaining a steady sleep schedule throughout the week.
Now, you probably have reasons for staying up late or going to bed early from one night to the next—and who doesn’t want to sleep in on the weekends—but studies are showing that this is more damaging than consistently getting too little sleep.
In fact, studies show that failing to maintain a steady sleep schedule completely negates your circadian rhythm and multiplies the symptoms of not sleeping enough!
Not keeping a steady circadian rhythm has been shown to decrease metabolisms (thus increasing weight), increase aches and pains, increase blood pressure, shorten attention spans, slow reaction time, decrease memory retention, and decrease productivity by up to 30%.
Not to mention it increases your irritability and your chances of depression. This is because of that hormone I mentioned earlier.
Cortisol, our ‘natural caffeine,’ is told when to surge and when to decrease by our circadian clocks.
But if you don’t keep a steady schedule, it’s like turning off your body’s alarm clock.
This can have two results.
Either your body can fail to produce cortisol at all, and you will feel exhausted constantly, or your body can constantly produce the hormone, making you irritable, angry, jittery, and unable to sleep.
So, no matter how much you want to hit snooze or sleep in on your one day off—don’t!
It might feel terrible to leave the comfort of your bed at 8 a.m. on a Saturday at first, but within a couple of weeks, your body and mind will thank you for it.
Now, don’t worry too much about going to bed and waking up at exactly the same time. One day every now and then of staying up late with friends or sleeping in a bit too late won’t ruin your rhythm.
The most important thing is that you are waking up at a generally consistent time, and even that can vary for an hour or two—but no more!
For example, if you wake up for work at 7a.m. on weekdays, you can get up at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. on weekends and not disturb your body’s internal clock. But if you wake up at 10 a.m. or 11 a.m., it’s like winding the clock in the wrong direction!
Maintaining your circadian rhythm may be an adjustment, but once you do, studies show that it will increase productivity and memory retention, decrease blood pressure, increase hearth health, increase reaction time, improve your metabolism, and even help you lose weight faster.
What are you waiting for? It’s time to wind your biological clock!