My family’s sleep cycle is rather strange. It follows a pattern, except that the pattern is pretty disturbed. Take for instance, my son’s sleeping habits. He goes to sleep by 9:30 pm and wakes up by 6:30 am. Problem is, he wakes up at 6:30 am even if he goes to sleep late in the night. His sleep time is not patterned by the number of hours, rather, it is patterned by the time at which he wakes up.
On the other hand, my husband goes to sleep late every night. Well, to be fair to him, almost every night. He sleeps best during the early hours of the morning, and does not wake up before the ninth hour.
And I am the one in-between. Sleep knocks my eyes by 9:30 every night and shuts itself down at 5:30 every morning. But the hours in-between are patterned by two to three micro bursts of wakeful moments. There is the 11:45 pm show, and then the 4:15 am gong. It takes anywhere between 5 to 15 minutes for me to get back to sleep once I wake up during these two-time periods.
Why is our sleep so messy?
People who have trouble with their sleep are often prescribed a medication called Melatonin. It is because the natural melatonin that their body makes, is not in balance.
Melatonin is a chemical that is secreted by the pineal gland. The flow of this chemical is based on the amount of light received through our eyes. As the day wears out, and so do we, the Melatonin gets ready to belt out its lullaby. And that is how Nature has patterned us to sleep along with her.
The Melatonin flow is balanced as long as our vision is healthy; and we work during the day, and sleep during the night. But we, the self-proclaimed intelligent specie, are so adamant at breaking the rules.
We have broken the rules of sleep time. We do wakey times during the night to work or to party and get our fill of sleep during the day. This pattern has become so common that an entire generation is growing up thinking that this opposite pattern is the new sleep rule.
So, what happens when we break the rules?
When rules are broken, we get punished, of course. When patterns established by nature gets broken, disaster happens. Like the disaster that is climate change. Our body is no different. When we break our sleep cycles, imagine a climate change occurring right within our body.
My father-in-law spent the better part of his lifetime working through night shifts. He is now stuck at home, with Parkinsons. According to research, when we begin to play with and manipulate our sleep-wake cycle, it ultimately plays a crucial role in causing neurodegenerative diseases.
The flow of melatonin helps our brain register awake hours and sleep hours depending on the flow of light through the eyes. When we mess up this flow with our computer screens, televisions, and smartphones, the brain’s registration system also goes hay-wire. What happens next is what happens when you topple a house of cards. Except, in very slow motion.
And as with climate change outside, we miss the warning signs from inside, until it is too late. Typical.
Modern life and our inability when it comes to self-regulation is what is causing the giant sleep epidemic. As the lines between the known concept of day and night begins to thin away, we have not only fallen into Pandora’s box, but have also locked ourselves deep within it. The only way out lies in healthier habits and self-regulation.
Here’s to sleeping well tonight, and waking up to a healthier tomorrow!
And this would be the exact moment when I wake up my husband and tell him to go to sleep on time.