You’ve probably heard people who work late night shifts in hospitals, fire stations, restaurants, or on the road protecting our streets talk about how light during the day has a negative impact on their ability to get a decent amount of restful sleep. But, did you know there is a real reason behind it? It’s not merely a preference for darkness that’s robbing them of the recuperative sleep they need in order to wake up refreshed and ready to face the day. But why does light have such a profound impact on sleep and what can people who work these necessary late shifts do to get the kind of sleep they need?
Why Does Light Negatively Impact Sleep?
“In the presence of light, your brain will not produce melatonin,” says Dr. Michael Breus, PhD, Sleep Specialist: On the surface that doesn’t seem like such a profoundly negative thing. However, melatonin is one of the vital hormones that plays a significant role in helping people not only fall asleep but also to remain asleep throughout the night. If a room has too much light, that makes things much more difficult for anyone looking to get a proper amount of sleep.
Lucid dreaming is a phenomenon that has been well documented over the past centuries. It’s a term that is used to describe the act of dreaming while being aware that you’re dreaming. In other words, dreams that feel real. In some instances the dreamer can even control the dream to some degree in order to determine its outcome or influence what takes place within the dream.
According to Edward Bixler of Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, who is a professor of psychology specializing in electrophysiology of sleep and sleep disorders, lucid dreams are what happens “when a person recognizes he or she is dreaming while in a dreaming state and often manipulates the events within the dream.” This is far from remembering those oh-so-elusive details of dreams after you’ve awakened in the morning.
You’ve probably heard, more than once, that sleep is vital for the growth of healthy children. The scientific community has known for a long time that the hours while the body is sleeping are not idle hours where it literally turns itself off. These are hours when the body is performing critical functions that help children grow. But why is it so important for children?
The Importance of Sleep for Children
Dr. Cara Natterson, a pediatrician and graduate of John Hopkins School of Medicine and Harvard University, provides important insight as to why age factors into the need for more sleep:
“Sleep is a critical ingredient to good growth, and the amount of sleep we need depends upon our age,” says Dr. Natterson. “Little babies, newborns, and infants get somewhere around 16 hours of sleep for every 24 hours, give or take. Toddlers need about 14 hours of sleep in every 24 hours.”
There’s just so much going on during those hours of sleep that the body cannot accomplish during waking hours.
Are you getting an adequate amount of sleep at night? Do you wake up each morning feeling well-rested and ready to start the day? Or, do you hit the snooze bar several times because you just can’t seem to drag yourself out of bed? Or, perhaps you sleep through the alarm, as it blares for all its worth on your bedside table, altogether?
People tend to sleep in 90 minute cycles. Waking at the wrong point in that cycle can have a profoundly negative impact on how rested and alert you feel throughout the day. However, using a sleep calculator to help you wake up at the right point in a given sleep cycle can greatly improve your quality of sleep as well as how rested you feel afterwards, even if you’re getting a less than optimal amount of sleep.
Sleep and Sleep Cycles
Sleep is actually divided up into several different 90 minute cycles. These cycles include 4 stages of NREM sleep and REM sleep. The total process takes approximately 90 minutes and then the cycle repeats. This will happen several times during a night’s sleep. Waking in the middle of a cycle or during the deep sleep portion of the sleep cycle can leave you feeling groggy throughout the day. However, waking at the right point, or near the top of your sleep cycle can leave you feeling well rested and ready to tackle whatever it is that lies ahead for you.
A sleep calculator is a tool that will help you calculate the proper length of sleep so that you wake up at the top of your cycle, rather than at a point where you’re likely to feel ill effects from your sleep rather than rested and refreshed as you should. Timing is everything when you’re struggling to get an adequate amount of sleep, or at least feel as though you’ve had enough. That’s why it’s so important to take advantage of tools like sleep calculators to help you get the restful sleep you need.
Sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your physical and mental health and well-being. Failing to get an adequate amount of sleep can limit the body’s ability to heal itself, recover from wounds, and even lead to premature aging. The bottom line is that sleep is necessary for the body and mind to function properly.
What Happens While You’re Sleeping?
We all know that the body needs sleep. The sleep cycle is important time for your body to restore and recover what’s lost during the day. Young children, especially, require large amounts of sleep because that’s the time when the growth hormone is released in the body. Cellular damage from the sun is also repaired while you’re sleeping. This includes things like wrinkle reduction and collagen production—which is why it’s sleep is commonly referred to as “beauty rest”.
Get ready for a shocking statistic: a full one third of American adults suffer from chronic pain. That’s more than all the people who have diabetes, cancer, and heart disease combined. So why don’t we hear more about this population? Diabetes is national news on a weekly basis. There’s information for diabetics on food labels at the grocery store, running nonstop on commercials, and in just about every information packet you’ll ever get at your doctor’s office. But when it comes to chronic pain there is a deafening silence. I think there are several reasons for this dearth of information and attention. First, chronic pain can refer to a wide range of conditions, from migraine headaches to nerve pain to backaches. And in each case, treatments are often lacking.
Shift work is a reality of our modern economy. Services don’t stop running when the sun goes down. Without night workers—nurses and doctors, toll booth workers, security guards, policemen and women, truck drivers, pilots, and more—our world would grind to a halt. One of my closest friends works nights at a home for children. Most of his time is spent reading, but when the kids wake up or there’s an emergency, he is the first person on the scene. Without him, those kids wouldn’t be safe. But he pays a high price. Like many late shift workers, he suffers from terrible sleep-wake disruption, and is always either strung out or exhausted. After years of this strange schedule, he suffers from a host of physical problems. He has high blood pressure, struggles with his weight, and was just diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. He also has a lot of trouble with his relationship.
I once stayed in a hotel/art installation called the Propeller City Island Lodge in Berlin. Its whole purpose is to experiment with sensory distortion—to use furniture and space to confuse, befuddle and delight with floating beds, strange mirrors, and optical tricks to create a warped sense of space. The way I felt in those spaces was strangely akin to the way I feel after an all-nighter: disoriented, amused, slightly afraid, and more than slightly uncomfortable.
When I was a kid, I read a book about African explorers. I was living in Africa at the time, so the story was especially alluring. Africa: home to heartbreakingly beautiful sunsets, the most delicious orange Fanta I’ve ever had, one of the best zip lines in the world, and the greatest number of diseases of any country on earth. The book was about these two men journeying alone into the jungles of what was, at the time, the nation of Zaire (today it is the Democratic People’s Republic of Congo). They had a compass, sleeping bags, enough fresh water for a week, and their wits. Of course, like many adventure stories, the two men didn’t have a peaceful time frolicking amongst the epiphytes. No, they met angry local people, had a run in with a cheetah, ran out of water, and had to build a shelter out of monkey bones. Then, one of them got bitten by a tsetse fly and fell into a strange dreamlike trance. The story was fiction but, as I would soon learn from my dad (a medical student at the time), sleeping sickness is very real, and very frightening. I spent the rest of our year in Kenya scouring my surroundings for tsetse flies so that I might escape the fantasy explorer’s dreaded fate.