Updated: Sep 3, 2020
We've always been told that sleeping late is bad for our health. Is it as bad as it sounds? What can we do to improve on it?
(This article was written in collaboration with Rick Tan for Wix Reads)
We've all been there. It's a school night, the lights are off, phone in hand and earphones in place. Your parents have just told you off for the third time that night to go to sleep. You finally decide to listen (as you always inevitably end up doing) and put the phone away. You get under the covers, ready to sleep.
Or, at least that's what they thought you were doing.
As soon as they leave the room, you repeat the same mistake almost every rebellious, irrational, adolescent teenager would do; neglect your sleep.
As you continue to scroll through your phone, your eyes begin waver and flutter weakly. You struggle to keep your eyes open as they begin to close, surely but slowly. "Just a few more minutes", you tell yourself.
Those 'few more minutes' never came. Already deep in the world of unconsciousness, nothing could wake you from your deep slumber.
You regret your carefree decision in the morning. 8 o'clock classes suck. You know its bad for you, but you continue to do so...
Every. Single. Night.
With that, you come to the same conclusion every drowsy morning: Sleeping late is bad for my health, right?
Sleeping Late is Bad for My Health, Right?
Well..... yes, but it depends. Kinda. If you're limited to a time constraint such as school, where you HAVE to wake up early for those pesky 8 AM classes then yes, you shouldn't be sleeping so late. What if you're not limited? What if I sleep from 10 PM to 6 AM on a school night, but its a weekend now and I decide to sleep from 2 AM to 10 AM? Then... its fine, to a certain extent. This is also more prevalent than ever in these trying times, with the pandemic putting us on lock-down in our homes.
I'm sure that we've all heard of this before, be it from our parents, relatives, friends or peers: You should get at least 6-8 hours of sleep every night, preferably before midnight. This is something that has been drilled into our heads continuously since we were kids, albeit our disregard for it. Although we're inclined to not believe it, it is the technical truth. However, there are compromises and alternatives that we can go for as not all of us can afford the luxury of sleeping early, even if we tell ourselves to.
The Science Behind Your Sleeping Times: The Circadian Rhythm
When you sleep, your body goes into a 'regenerative' state; the brain is allowed to recover, revitalize and throw out waste products. Without going into details, basically your body needs to sleep in order to recoup for the coming day. So, don't even think about pulling an all-nighter to study for an exam :^). Treat your body well, okay? :D
So, what is the Circadian Rhythm?
It is your body's internal 24-hour clock that governs when you should be awake and when you should be asleep. This is decided by the sleep cycle that it adheres to, which naturally is to be awake when there is light, and to be asleep when it is dark. Thus, it is ideal for us to follow what is natural to our body, which is sleeping when it is dark. In regards to the topic, it can then be said that sleeping while it is dark (around after dusk) and waking up when there is light (around after dawn) is considered to be 'quality sleep'.
Quality sleep is sleeping when it is dark, and arising when there is light.
Let's Talk Consistency
So, we have established that having a natural, quality sleep is to sleep before midnight (when it is dark) and arise after dawn(when there is light). I can pretty much confirm that most of you who are reading this don't follow this timing, right? (Me myself included :P) So, what can we do about it?
If you simply cannot stick to this timing, then there is another factor that you can look forward to: Consistency.
Many say that consistency is key, and this could not be truer in regards to sleep. Sleeping consistently means to have a regular sleep schedule that you can always if not most of the time follow. As you stick to a sleep schedule consistently, your body will adapt to it over time. Its essentially the same as sticking to doing something until it becomes a habit. Of course, this does not mean that you can stick to a gruesome sleeping schedule such as sleeping at 6 AM and waking at 2 PM consistently. If you want a relatively healthy sleeping schedule, you can offset it by a few hours (maybe 2 hours past midnight), but you must be consistent if you choose to sleep late and arise late.
So, What Can You Do To Improve?
If you already have 6-8 hours of sleep every night, and start to sleep around before midnight, then you're already set. Keep up the good work! :D
If you don't, don't be let down. I also have trouble sticking to that schedule :). All you have to do is to find a sleeping time that is preferably only offset by 1-3 hours, and sleep for 7-8 hours throughout the night and into the day. Here's a good example of a compromise:
I can't stick to sleeping at 11:30 PM and waking up at 7:30 AM the next day, so I compromise and switch it up to:
Sleeping at 2 AM and waking up at 10 AM on the same day.
The additional factor to be included in this compromise is to be consistent. If I decide to stick to this and sleep from 2 AM - 10 AM every night, then I have to ensure that I must sleep around 2 AM, give or take only 30 minutes or so.