There is a lot of advice out there about how to get the best night of sleep. But the fact that you can’t sleep might not be your fault. It turns out, night owls have an internal clock that functions differently. Forcing them to wake up early could have serious health consequences. The following is a transcript of the video.
There is plenty of advice for how to improve your sleep. Go to bed at the same time. Avoid digital screens after dark. And don’t hit snooze. But it all comes down to the same assumption: That YOU’RE doing something wrong. When, in fact, it may not be your fault, at all.
Inside practically every organism on Earth there’s a clock that keeps order. Known as the circadian rhythm. For humans, it’s located in the part of our brains called the hypothalamus. And while it’s most famous for controlling our sleep cycles…it’s also responsible for helping primary organs like the brain, heart, and lungs, work in harmony. But not everyone’s circadian rhythm is the same. Night owls, for instance, generally feel tired later than early birds. Often because they produce high amounts of the sleep hormone, melatonin, later at night.
And for most of human history that didn’t matter – since night owls could protect their tribes from nocturnal predators or their cities from cunning conquerors – but society has MADE it a problem in recent decades. An estimated 80% of Americans follow daily schedules that fall between 6 am and 6 pm. Yet, nearly a third of the population considers themselves night owls. Which means they’d be better off with a schedule that looks more like this. This phenomenon is called social jetlag. It’s like the jetlag you feel after a long plane trip…but worse because it doesn’t disappear after a few days.
And social jetlag is taking its toll on night owls of the world. Because, even if you get the recommended amount of sleep…knocking your circadian rhythm out of whack has consequences. For example, one study found that for every hour your circadian rhythm is out of syn …your risk of obesity increases by 33%. Also increasing your risk of the many health complications associated with obesity. And the problem isn’t just a physical one. In another study, people whose circadian rhythms were more than 2 hours off…reported notably more severe symptoms of depression.
And since your circadian rhythm tends to shift as you age…social jetlag is especially apparent in teens. In fact, the CDC warns that most public schools across America start too early, before 8:30. Which, according to the nonprofit “Rand Corporation,” is costing the country $US9 billion a year from mainly lost academic performance and car crashes from tired teens behind the wheel. Luckily, the circadian rhythm isn’t set in stone. Turns out, it’s largely triggered by light signals that strike your eye. So, when you first wake up, get outside and soak up some morning sun…or if that’s out of the question, make sure your home is well lit. It might just brighten your morning a little more.