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One Sleep Rhythm Doesn’t Fit All. This Is Why.

Updated: Mar 31, 2022

The tick-tick of your office clock might schedule your work day, but when it comes to your biological schedule, the personalized ‘master clock’ in your brain always has the final say.

Just like everything outside you follows a routine, every system within you also follows a schedule for the proper functioning of the whole body. This scheduling of activities is done by your circadian rhythm, which is the alarm generated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus- the master clock of your body. Suprachiasmatic nucleus is made up of about 20,000 nerve cells and is located in hypothalamus.

Circadian rhythm refers to the collective physical, mental and behavioural changes that your body undergoes in a 24-hour cycle. It controls when one wants to be sleep and when one wants to be awake, one’s timed preferences for eating and drinking, the release of a number of hormones, and body temperature among many other functions. The existence of this internal clock in the human body was experimentally proved in 1938 by Professor Nathaniel Kleitman and his research assistant Bruce Richardson who spent nearly a month in isolation in a deep cave.

One circadian rhythm doesn’t fit all. Your circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle is never the same as that of your friend, sibling or even your spouse, though you may go to bed at the same time and spend the same amount of time in bed. This is because, as researches have proved, circadian rhythm is personal and genetically defined. And to some extent, it is also influenced by environmental, cultural and behavioural factors.

The peak and trough of an individual’s activity is decided by the circadian rhythm. While some find themselves most active and alert in the morning, some have their peak phase of activity during evening. Colloquially, we refer to them as ‘morning larks’ and ‘night owls’.

Rhythm of Larks and Owls. The morning larks tend to fall asleep early in the night and wake up early in the morning and find themselves in hum of activity from the start of the day. The night owls, despite hard try, can fall asleep only at late night, sometimes only after 1 a.m. or so. Due to this, they do not feel refreshed enough to wake up early in the morning and tend to sleep late into morning or even afternoon. Their peak of wakefulness arrives in the evening during which their productivity is at its best.

Is it bad to be a night owl? Our society often misunderstands the ‘night owls’ as people who are indolent and tag them as ‘lazy’, but the fact remains that these people are designed to sleep and wake up at hours considered ‘late’ by the existing conventions. Yet another fact to pay attention is that most of the chronic sleep-deprived belong to this category. The work schedules of our society demands working hours that start in the morning and ends as soon as evening sets in. While morning larks find this convenient, the night owls are not only deprived of their morning sleeping hours but also are unable to perform their best during the day. By the time their peak mode sets in, working hours come to an end.

Morning larks have their own share of misery too? They find it beyond their ability to take night shifts at work, or attend to familial night gatherings. Though the early bird ‘catches the worm’, unless they get to bed in time for their early sleep, they feel sapped out of energy.

Most of those who have a regular work schedule falls somewhere in the spectrum between a morning lark and a night owl. Your sleep rhythms and sleep patterns are as unique as you. Understanding your sleep needs and customizing your schedules of the day to fit in best is the key to healthy life. At all times, make sure that your sleep fulfills its role- gives you good recovery from the stress of the day.

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