If you’re feeling weary this morning even though you enjoyed seven to eight hours’ sleep, it’s because you mucked around with your waking time on the weekend. And now you’re paying for it with Monday-itis.
And you’ll be paying for it tomorrow morning as well.
The fact is, the glorious weekend lie-in puts you so out of whack with your circadian rhythms – your inner clock – you won’t be feeling right again until the middle of the week.
Going to bed earlier isn’t going to help. The secret to consistent healthy sleeping doesn’t rely on a perfect magic time to go to bed – it’s all about setting your alarm clock to the same time every morning, week day or weekend.
This isn’t news. Rather we tend to ignore the science and whinge about feeling tired. The Mondayitis research was published by Adelaide researcher Leon Lack 11 years ago, and quietly went through to the keeper. He found that a two-hour lie-in after a late night caused test subjects to suffer a form of jet lag, with their clocks put 45 minutes out of phase.
Professor Lack is a Clinical Psychologist at the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health (AISH). As well, he is a Professor of Psychology at Flinders University. Thirty years ago, as part of his research into circadian rhythms, he began work on a device to reset patients’ body clocks using blue and green light therapy.
The device launched globally in 2012, with thousands reportedly sold to help shift workers, people with jet lag and conditions such as seasonal affective disorder (depression in long winters) retune their clocks and sleep better.
Dr Sally Ferguson, who has collaborated with Lack on several research projects, told The New Daily that our “circadian rhythms are hardwired”. Morning people will forever be morning people; evening people, who experience the shift from wakefulness to sleepiness at a later time of day, are forever evening people.
Dr Ferguson, a morning person, thinks the evening crowd have a tougher time. But, she says, by setting the alarm clock every day at the same hour and following sleep hygiene practises (taking time to wind down, dim the lights, avoiding food or drink an hour before retiring, and giving yourself the time for seven to nine hours sleep a night) evening people can establish a healthy enough sleep life.
Still, people try to beat the system. The latest rage – as trumpeted worldwide by media reports – is to forgo the old idea sleeping a certain number of hours per night, and focus your plan on completing whole 90-minute sleep cycles instead.
The argument goes that by walking in the middle of a cycle you end up grumpy; but by waking during the lull between cycles, you’ll rise refreshed even if you’ve only had three or four hours sleep.
The story first appeared in the UK-based Murdoch newspapers in late March, and went global – and featured a sleep calculator developed by a retailer called web-blinds.com. According to the calculator, if you needed to be up at 7am, it suggests heading to bed at 9:46pm or 11:16pm or 12:46am or 2:16 am – and no matter what you’d wake refreshed.
Sleep scientists, including Dr Ferguson, declared the idea a terrible one. For one thing, sleep cycles are only roughly 90 minutes long. They’re not all equal. More importantly, the sleep calculator ignores the demands of the internal body clock.
Dr Ferguson points out that if we were shut away in an environment free of light and time signals – say a place dimly lit around the clock and closed to the world – we’d fall asleep about the same time every 24 hours.
So, one last time: it’s about getting your internal clock and the one sitting malevolently on the bedside table, into consistent sync. Sleep tight.