Welcome to The Twilight Zone. Not some science fiction fantasy, but a real place where up to 90 per cent of us spend the majority of our waking lives.
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分We have built a world that hides us from daylight in dimly-lit offices, and then illuminates the night. We talk of burning the candle at both ends. The midnight oil. There not being enough hours in the day. We depend on night shift workers to mend our roads and staff our hospitals.
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分Small wonder, then, that a third of us are struggling to sleep. Finally, though, the degree to which we’ve been playing a dangerous game with our biology is being understood.
Until recently, sleep science was often synonymous with circadian science, but the latter is now emerging out of the shadows. The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to three scientists in the field of circadian rhythm2020欧洲杯足球即时比分. As a result of theirs and others’ breakthroughs, we’re waking up to the power of the body’s internal biological clock.
Like plants and animals, we too are preprogrammed to do certain activities at specific times of the day2020欧洲杯足球即时比分. Our circadian rhythms are controlled by circadian clocks, present in every organ and every cell, and these clocks tell our brain when to sleep, tell our gut when to digest our food optimally, tell our heart to pump more blood and when to slow down.
The health risks associated with a disrupted circadian rhythm
Ignore them at your peril. In the short term, you may feel lethargic, suffer insomnia and weight gain. One report showed that 57 per cent of junior doctors have had a crash, or near miss, on the way back from a night shift.
And the long-term effects? Chronic disease, such as type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer, have been linked to disruption of our circadian rhythm. The impact of disrupting our circadian sleep rhythm is such that night-shift workers have a higher mortality rate. The 24-hour society comes with a high price tag.
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分For Dr Satchin Panda, one of the scientists at the forefront of the circadian science revolution, the challenge for humanity is to rethink the world which we have built over the past 100 years.
“It’s an asbestos moment,” he says. “We figured out asbestos was harmful in the Seventies, and we’re still removing it now. We’re going through that moment with circadian disruption, but it will take a generation to implement change.”
Dr Panda discovered the role of a blue light sensing protein called melanopsin in the retina which is hard-wired to the master clock in our brain, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) which coordinates the rhythmic activity of billions of individual cells in the organ systems of the body.
That first big dose of blue light in the morning (ideally in the form of natural sunlight) sets our rhythm for the day. Studies have shown that 30 minutes of blue-light exposure in the morning leads to better working memory performance and faster reaction times.
How many of us get close to that? In the dark months many of us commute to offices where we spend the day. In the evening, moonlight and candlelight aren’t bright enough to activate melanopsin, but bright electric light is. Unless you dim the lights you’ll get a spike just when you want an increase in melatonin, which you need to fall asleep.
The scientist helping jetsetters reboot their body clocks
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分Prof Russell Foster, director of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford, describes the SCN as the conductor around which everything aligns. “So you have a beautiful symphony. If it breaks down you have a musical cacophony. What we need to do as an entity is do the right thing at the right time each day,” he says.
At a basement gym in Marylebone I’m pedalling on a Wattbike wearing a pair of space-age glasses that shine blue light into the centre of my eyes.
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分This is one of the biohacking tools that Jon Denoris, an exercise scientist and coach, uses at his gym-laboratory, Club 51. Specialising in the needs of people who move across time zones, Denoris hacks the circadian rhythms of wired and tired executives and jet-setting celebrities. Jet lag is a classic example of internal dyssynchrony. The reason we feel awful is that the brain, the liver, the gut and the muscles are all at a slightly different phase. Denoris describes sleep as the master switch. “If you’re not sleeping well it’s really hard to perform well,” he explains.
On a laptop screen he shows me sleep data of clients wearing Oura sleep-tracking rings all over the world from Delhi to Los Angeles. While they’re encouraged not to obsess over the data, Denoris and his team do.
Based on someone’s heart-rate variability data when they wake up, he can advise them whether to go for a big training session or whether they really need to take it easy and do some meditation. A time-restricted eating programme might be part of their prescription, with Denoris telling them when best to eat as they move through time zones.
Exercise is one of the best ways to reset your circadian rhythm when you arrive in a different time zone. A study showed that exercise at 7am or between 1pm and 4pm reset the body clock so that people woke up feeling more refreshed the next day. Throw in a big dose of blue light stimulus for a double hit.
A jog outside first thing isn’t an option during the darker months, so many of Denoris’ clients have a bike and glasses (much more dynamic than sitting in front of a SAD lamp) like those I’m trying out, at home for them to hit straight off the plane.
Yet for Prof Foster, who offers a sleep prescription to four fitful sleepers, below, sleep is much more than a clock we can switch on and off. It’s a “global brain event” modulated by a circadian priming system. “Sleep is best cognitive enhancer we’ve got, but we throw it away without thinking what an extraordinary part of our behaviour it is,” he points out.
While profoundly influenced by our circadian rhythm, the states of consciousness in sleep replenish every brain neurotransmitter system and multiple brain structures.
Prof Foster points to the studies showing how beta amyloids, a misfolded protein (or plaques) associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s2020欧洲杯足球即时比分, is cleared during sleep.
While his most recent work has used this growing understanding of circadian mechanisms to develop drugs (due to go to human trials this year) that are able to fool our bodies into thinking they have seen light, and so stop them drifting out of synch, what he really wants is for us to take ownership of our sleep.
“So many people think sleep is just what you get. But it’s a behaviour and like other behaviours it can be modified,” he reasons.
While cautioning against using sleep-monitoring apps, which can generate more anxiety, he urges us to minimise light exposure before bed. There is misinformation on this subject,
he says. Light from technology is less damaging than the increased arousal that goes with it. For teenagers using devices late at night, it is anxiety about peer acceptance that’s causing sleeplessness rather than the light exposure.
He also questions how much of what we do at night needs to happen then. In the case of the emergency services the answer is clearly yes, but Prof Foster asks, what then is the employer’s duty of care? He sees a future where technology telling you you’re nodding off at the wheel becomes mandatory.
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分Offices are already replacing harsh fluorescents with LED lights, that not only save energy, but help create an environment more in line with natural circadian rhythms during the day.
Whatever your situation, considering when, how and what time you sleep has to become a priority, he says.
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分“We brush our teeth automatically because we know they will rot and fall out if we don’t. But if we don’t sleep our brains don’t function properly and we will fall apart,” he adds.
“We’ve got to make that link, otherwise there will be consequences of working outside of our biology.”
Four poor sleepers, four 'circadian prescriptions'
The night shifter: Ben Shooter, 44, psychiatrist, Monmouthshire
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分Throughout my training and the past 15 years as a doctor I’ve worked nights. I’m a chronically bad sleeper; I’ve inherited my dad’s ability to survive on four-and-a-half hours of sleep. The problem is if I have less than four hours then I’m like a zombie. Night shifts knock me for six and earlier in my career made me quite sick. Now as a psychiatrist I’m on call overnight once a week, supposedly, but at the moment it’s two or three nights a week.
I don’t sleep at all when I’m on call as I’m either out working or lying in bed waiting for the phone to ring. After a night on call it takes me about three days to fully recover. The main issue is that I work the following day. So I will work 9am-5pm, come home and be on call from 5pm-9am, and then I go back to work at 9am the next morning. I don’t get to catch up the next day. It affects decision making, which is the bit I worry about. It does impact everything I do. I have to eat at the same time every day, otherwise I can’t sleep at all; I don’t know which is affecting which.
Over the last few years I’ve discovered surfing, which is an amazing de-stresser. A few hours of that will knock me out and I will get a good night’s sleep. I do look at technology when I can’t sleep, I’ll watch Netflix, which I know is terrible, but it’s the only way I can fall asleep. Otherwise I just lie in bed with thoughts whirring about my head.
My wife can close her eyes and sleep anywhere in the world, but I can’t do that. If I catnap during the day I feel rotten, lethargic and sick. Even when I’m exhausted, I keep myself awake so I can sleep at night time, which is always hit-and-miss.
Prof Foster's circadian prescription
Ben has grown up thinking little sleep is the norm, but it’s very rare that people need less than six hours. The classic problem for the night-shift worker is that the tired brain can’t detect how tired it is. If you need an alarm clock to wake up, if you’re doing stupid things, if you’re falling asleep very quickly; these signs are all telling you that you need more sleep.
Ben should maximise light exposure while working at night to keep him alert. It will screw up other things with his sleep, but at least he’ll have a higher chance of doing his job properly.
Two things are happening with shift work. The body clock is not adapting to the demands of working at night because of the light/dark cycle. And also you have the other timer involved in sleep, the homeostatic drive for sleep (aka sleep pressure), which means the longer you’ve been awake, the greater the need for sleep.
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分The way most of us overcome this situation is to activate the stress axis.
It’s like going into first gear; you get a massive acceleration, but as any driver knows, if you leave the engine in first gear you will destroy it before too long. That’s what we’re doing biologically with chronic stress, which is how Ben is coping with sustained night shift work.
Mindfulness and relaxation techniques would be better than Netflix; they do work and as a psychiatrist he will be familiar with them.
Night-shift workers crave carbohydrates. So he should be aware of putting on weight.
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分He should minimise his intake of sugar and carbohydrates and eat more protein-rich foods.
The university crammer: Helen Clay, 20, third year medical student, St Anne’s College, Oxford
I like to sleep. But although I’m a morning person, I end up staying up late: I go to bed anywhere between midnight and 3am. I’ll stay in the library, which is open 24 hours a day, until 30 minutes before I go to sleep. I don’t like to work in my bedroom as it makes me feel claustrophobic. I might watch an episode of something on my laptop to relax before I shut my eyes. I fall asleep quickly.
If I’m not working late four or five nights a week then I’ll be out socialising; either clubbing or going to the pub.
I’ll probably sleep for five or six hours most nights.
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分One night a week I’ll have a lot more sleep to try and catch up a bit. If I’ve drunk the night before then I normally fall asleep faster, but I don’t feel as rested in the morning.
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分I normally leave the curtains open so I get natural light in the morning to try and wake me up. I get up around 8am, and sometimes go to the gym. I don’t work well during afternoons, so end up not doing the things I’m supposed to do and then stay up late finishing tasks.
I drink quite a lot of coffee, maybe four of five cups a day. I’ve started trying to stop around 4pm, but if I know I’m not going to bed until later then I won’t stop drinking the coffee. I drink it because I like the taste, so I don’t really know what I’m like without it.
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分That said, if I go without in the morning I’ll notice soon after I wake up that I don’t feel awake.
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分I go to bed a bit earlier out of term time and get up later. But realistically, I can’t see how I can change my sleep pattern now.
Prof Foster's circadian prescription
Most people in their early 20s average eight to nine hours of sleep a night, so Helen’s not getting enough. She’s an early type surrounded by late types, so is working outside her normal biological range.
She’s fuelling her day with caffeine, but should try to stop after lunchtime, and should remember alcohol is a sedative that inhibits the consolidation of memory and the processing of information.
This summer Helen needs to define her natural sleep pattern and stick to it. But she has to be realistic, so it doesn’t destroy her social life. By sticking to a regime she will do fewer hours of work but be more productive. There’s data showing late-night cramming leads to lower grades. A night’s sleep enhances our capacity to process information. It’s the best way to boost brain power.
The busy mum: Nicola Graham, 35, physiotherapist, Oxford
We definitely see the sunrise in our house every day. Before having children nearly four years ago, I needed my eight hours’ sleep and the idea of not having it was terrible. I was a really good sleeper. It came easily and I really enjoyed it. I knew it made me feel good. Having children who haven’t been good sleepers means that I feel like sleep has been taken away from me. I still feel my body wants it but it’s just not allowed.
I’ve had to make changes to compensate for that. If I get the opportunity to nap, then brilliant.
I enjoy running and doing CrossFit, but I find that I don’t have the energy for high intensity workouts. I can feel my body saying: “Do something more gentle.” So yoga and Pilates have become a priority for me.
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分During the week I commute to work and the only daylight I get is at lunch time when I go for a walk to get a sandwich.
I’m self-employed so I will answer emails late at night because I’ve been with my kids from 5pm when people are still working. I find I choose to be on my laptop until 9.30pm, so I only have a half-hour before I make a conscious effort to go to sleep at 10pm. I’m so tired that I fall asleep instantly, until I’m woken up by a little person in the night. If it’s 4am then I’m usually up for the rest of the day. But even if they do sleep through, I tend to wake up at 4am in fight or flight mode, wondering what’s going on.
I don’t have tea or coffee, because I don’t like the taste. Come 3pm, that’s a really tough time for me. I could quite easily have a nap in the middle of the day.
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分I know that the time will come again when I can get back to my proper sleep but in the meantime I have to do what I can to survive.
But the saying that there’s not enough hours in the day rings very true to me.
Prof Foster's circadian prescription
As a society we’ve moved from the extended family to the nuclear family in 50 years; childcare is now entirely the responsibility of the parents and invariably the mother. That is abnormal in the history of our species, and every primate, where child care is the responsibility of the extended family group.
In the absence of family help, Nicola should try to stabilise the sleep-wake patterns of her children, perhaps by introducing self-soothing. We have become so anxious about childcare that we now can’t get a decent night’s sleep.
It’s very easy to say get an au pair, but if you have the income to afford it, it’s not a failure to cope because we never evolved to be able to cope. Longer nursery times might also help, so she can do her work during office hours. As long as they’re thriving and interacting with other kids, you don’t need to feel guilty.
Seek out the help and make sure you are fitting your own oxygen mask first. What we’re learning is that if you’re vulnerable to certain conditions, such as heart disease and even dementia, your middle years are more important than we thought.
The early-rising retiree: Penny Howell, 68, retired mother of four, West Sussex
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分I’ve gone through most phases of life, like having children and working. I don’t have the responsibilities I once had. But as you get older you get more worried about stupid unnecessary stuff. I’ve spoken to other people and that seems normal.
I often wake up at 4am. To begin with it panicked me. I’ve trained myself, to a degree, not to do so. I’ve come to terms with the fact that’s how life is.
I read my Kindle before I fall asleep and if I wake up in the night I enjoy not getting up, instead I stay in and read. If I fall asleep again it turns itself off. I do have my phone and various other devices in my room; I use the internet a lot to check the news, which I know is bad.
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分Because I live by myself, I don’t have someone around who makes any difference to my times.
I know some older people perhaps don’t do enough. I try to be active during the day. I function best in the morning. If I wake up at 6am I’ll get up and do things.
I try to have my porridge before my coffee nowadays, instead of after. And I’m thinking of switching to decaf.
If I stay at home sitting around that makes me sleep badly, which affects my mood.
It’s been pouring with rain for ages, so it can be hard to get out.
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分My daughter laughs at my kitchen disco. When I’m cooking I put on music to suit my mood and bop around for a bit. If I’ve been stuck inside all day it makes me feel better.
I love being a morning person, but it does mean that come the afternoon, I doze off.
I could be watching TV or reading a book and I’ll fall asleep, which is so annoying because I miss so much in the day.
Prof Foster's circadian prescription
Eight hours of solid sleep per night might not be the norm: if you look at societies without electric light, it seems we were once all polyphasic sleepers – we went to sleep for a few hours, pottered around, and went go back to sleep. The key thing is not to get stressed about it: embrace the sleep that works best for you.
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分During working years sleep is constrained. In retirement our sleep can expand, and that’s natural. However, Penny should try not to let afternoon naps get longer, as they may disturb night-time sleep.
2020欧洲杯足球即时比分It’s great Penny dances. If you’re worried about not getting enough light, get close to the windows, in particular as you eat your breakfast. Penny could also consider a light box – it can improve your mood. A recent study showed that 10,000 lux of light for 30 minutes first thing in the morning can be compared to Prozac.