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Sleep is the most important job of the day!

That is often said but what does it mean and what can affect us disrupting the most important job of the day?

First, a “technical bit”. The normal pattern of pattern of waking during the day when it is light and sleeping at night when it is dark is a natural part of human life. Melatonin is a natural hormone which the body produces and releases into the bloodstream when the sun goes down and darkness occurs, this normally starts around 21.00 and lasts about 12 hours. I am sure that doctors and sleep experts will cringe at my very basic knowledge, but a vague understanding I feel is needed to understand sleep.

Last bit of “technical” coming up. Circadian clocks can be found in almost every cell in our body, and run on an approximately 24-hour cycle. These clocks are generally controlled by a master circadian clock in the brain and determine all of our circadian rhythms (daily cycles), The circadian clock needs to keep in step with the day/night cycle. It does this primarily by tracking light in our environment. The importance of light was explained in my last post. By reducing the Melatonin in our bodies we are reducing our chances of a good night’s sleep. As I explained in my last post, using phones and tablets cause melatonin levels to reduce.

Many of us experience a change in bed and rise times (sleep timing) from weekdays to weekends. Without any work, we might go to bed later and/or sleep in at the weekends. However, shifting our sleep schedule in this way can lead to a shift in our circadian body clock over the weekend. When our body clock timing is no longer aligned with our work, we can experience ‘social jet lag’ on Monday morning. So, when our alarm jolts us awake on Monday morning, we can feel and function as if we should still be asleep.

In the short term, social jet lag produces effects similar to cutting your sleep short, such as poor concentration and motivation at work or school, reduced productivity, sleepiness, irritability and difficulty completing complex tasks.

What can we do to avoid social jet lag?

  • Try to stick to a regular bed and rise time every day.
  • Try to get enough sleep every day so you are not tempted to sleep in at the weekend.
  • Ensure you give yourself a good dose of light when you wake up in the morning, preferably natural light.
  • Avoid bright light devices (smartphones, tablets, laptops etc.) in the evening.

I know from personal experience how difficult these are to achieve on a regular basis, and I am still working on it, but at least I know that I should. I hope that reading this has helped to reinforce the most important job of the day.

I have not attempted to comment on about 20% of the population, night workers and shift workers. Perhaps some of you might well have suggestion and methods that you use.

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