I swear, every time I come back to school after a break at home, I have to swing my sleep schedule back around. Going home gives me the chance to catch up with my parents, siblings, and friends, often at the cost of sleep. After sleeping one hour Monday night and twelve hours Tuesday night, I figure something has got to change. How exactly do I go about doing that? I have always been told that there is no such thing as ‘sleep credit.’ Sleeping an excessive amount Tuesday night did not help absolve the issues incurred Monday night, but instead made Wednesday even harder to push through. Till Roenneberg, professor at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, describes some common myths about sleep.
- Eight hours of sleep is necessary.
The amount of sleep a body requires differs for everyone. Variances occur between genders, age groups, jobs, and even genetic make-up. Although men and women tend to require a similar amount of sleep given an equivalent age range, women tend to sleep about a quarter of an hour more than men. Unsurprisingly, children need to sleep about two more hours than adults. One interesting comment Roenneberg makes is that there exists a gene that determines a body’s optimum sleep duration. It is the variation in this gene that contributes to differences in required amount of sleep. Ideally, everyone should sleep until they are naturally awakened, i.e. without the aid of an alarm clock. Of course, try telling that to 80% of the world attempting to make it to work on time.
- Early to bed, early to rise is the healthier option.
Generally speaking, this method has become pretty dated. When daily work heavily corresponded to the hours of daylight, so did our sleep schedules. However, since the origination of artificial lighting, our bodies are entirely confused as to what time is appropriate to get some shut-eye, yet our work schedule has not changed much. This causes what Roenneberg’s team calls “social jet lag.” We go to be late and wake up early, and then try to compensate for this discrepancy on the weekends. However, making our overall sleep schedules more uniform leads to higher cognitive performance. This is certainly something to note as finals approach.
- Exercise improves sleep.
Although physical activity can induce drowsiness, surprisingly, it is not the primary cause of a good night’s sleep. Exercising often means a higher exposure to sunlight. This exposure enables our body to sync up with nature’s rhythm, therein invoking an earlier bedtime. Again, affirming of the importance of the daylight cycles.
- Couples simply have differing sleeping habits.
More often than not, a husband structures his sleep cycles differently from his wife and visa versa. This has more to do with biological reasons than personal ones. Women generally require sleep earlier than men. The work schedules of the spouses do impact when the couple heads for bed, but even then it is the women who often determine the bedtime. Now, why is it that we don’t use sleep schedules as a criterion when finding ‘the one?’
By: Carali Van Otteren
(Photo courtesy of sxc.hu)