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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The (not so) secret life of a body clock

My body clock hates life. It hates early mornings, it hates not being able to have an afternoon nap. It loves late nights spent relaxing at home. It hates the corporate world, the 9-5 world. It takes my body clock weeks to get used to early mornings (and early for me is a 7am wake up) and then one very late night and sleeping 1/2 the next day to completely reset itself and be back to old habits.

It takes me a good hour to even half wake up in the early morning. I can climb out of bed, lie on the carpet next to my bed under the guise of resting for a few minutes before I get dressed, and be asleep again (yes, on the floor) in seconds. I look like crap most mornings. It doesn't matter whether I wear makeup or not, I can't disguise the half opened eyes and the scowl.

Find me at 10pm (like now, for example) and I'll be experiencing my night time burst of energy. I'll be getting things done- maybe cleaning my room, or sorting out stuff that I have been putting off all day. I can go a scary length of time with very little sleep if I don't allow myself to catch up by sleeping in late or having an evening or afternoon nap - I still seem to get this night time burst, regardless of how tired I actually am. I have tried the usual tactics: earlier bedtimes (pointless, as I lie in bed thinking anyway), allowing myself extra time to hit snooze, obscene amounts of caffeine, forcing myself to exercise early in the morning... to no avail.

I am an expert snoozer. I can hit snooze on my alarm clock several times before actually waking up. I have been known to hit snooze for an hour, with the alarm going off every five minutes. I am also a master at blocking out alarm noises once I get used to a certain tone - I drove my travelling companions mad in South America when I started sleeping through my travel alarm.

Fellow night people include psychopaths like Hitler. On the other hand, it's clear that Jesus was a morning person (See Mark 1:35: "And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed." LOL). Morning people are more proactive, and do better in business - they get the top jobs and the promotions, according to some study that sounds official. Due to this very important fact (and the incidental fact that I will soon be starting fulltime 9-5 work but will likely be needing to get to work at around 7:30-8 in order to get a parking space) I long to defect to the other side, that of early risers.

Adding to my woes is my pitiful response to any level of sleep deprivation. I simply cannot function on any level. Emotionally, I loose the plot - I become grumpy and grouchy and you wouldn't want to touch me with a 10 foot pole. My mental capacity decreases remarkably - I cannot think and I start forgetting simple things like where I put the keys down 30 seconds ago, or what I am supposed to be doing that day. Screw with my sleep too much and I start feeling physically ill as well. Researchers have now found that there's a huge genetic component to how well we deal with sleep deprivation. So basically there's not much I can do to change myself in this regard.

But what about re-wiring my body clock? Again there is a genetic component, but most sciency people agree that we can rewire. It must be possible given that the vast majority of mankind manage to conform to society's expectations of having a day job. According to experts, I'm supposed to do the following things to re-wire:

~ Avoid TV, or stressful activities before bed. These things can over-stimulate you, making it harder to fall asleep. OK so I don't do this - when I get my energy burst, I am most likely to get the all important things like bill paying done that I have been procrastinating. I feel good about getting stuff done, especially yucky adult stuff, but really I'm screwing up my re-wiring efforts.

~ Get as much natural light into your eyes as possible first thing in morning - this helps your brain register that it's time to be alert. Ideally, go for a thirty minute walk as soon as you get up. Ha - I hate light in the morning. I need my sunglasses or I feel like crying, just from the enormity of it all. So this one will be a challenge. Does it mean I need to drive without sunnies and potentially fry my eyeballs? Or am I just making pathetic excuses...?!

~ Once at work, keep your body clock in mind when scheduling tasks: Plan easier activities--e-mail correspondence or organizational projects--first thing in the morning whenever possible because you're not operating at your mental best. Late morning, such as 11 a.m., through the lunch hours is better for challenging tasks, such as a meeting that requires you to think on your feet. Already do it, buster. I spend my first hour or two at work doing nothing other than drinking coffee, reading emails, the news, scheduling my day and just generally... being slow.

~ During the afternoon dip, take a walk, outside if possible, or socialise for a few minutes with colleagues. Not going to help- by the time I want to sleep, I want to sleep.

~ Choose a new wake-up time - and stick to it. No exceptions, including weekends. Disruptions in your schedule could throw off the body's sleep pattern for weeks. So this means giving up one of my biggest joys in life- the weekend sleep in. And the weekend afternoon nap assumedly too... what quality of life does that leave me with? At least I know I'm not the only one who gets all screwed up by one late night!

~ No caffeine or alcohol after 3pm. This means no coffee to help with the afternoon lull, nor any drinkies after work- when else am I supposed to drink, at 8am!?

~ Don't exercise close to bedtime, as this can interfere with sleep. This means morning exercise, my arch enemy. Blergh.

So it seems that there are some changes that I can make - the most important one probably being the early morning wakeup on weekends. This will involve finding some way to enjoy my weekends even though I'm sleepy and grumpy. Weekends will potentially be ruined, and I'd be giving up one of my favourite activities (sleeping in).

The one fact that gives me hope is that researchers believe that most of us are night owls during our teens to early 20s. Many of us shift from that temporary owl phase as we move into our 30s (there are some natural-born owls who continue to do the up all night thing).

And night owls aren't total losers: research has shown that we're smarter and more creative, and have a better sense of humour. Thank you Newsweek for the final punch line: "Don't be too hard on yourself: Morning slowness doesn't mean you are lazy or apathetic about your day. Night-owl tendencies are estimated to be at least 50 percent genetic in origin, says Steven Brown, a sleep exert at the University of Zurich. You may find rising early a struggle for much of your life."

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