All animals that we know have daily rhythms of wakefulness and sleep. When deprived of sleep, we all suffer. Now imagine a planet that does not rotate on its axis. This will mean that one half of the planet will have prolonged light hours and the other will have prolonged dark hours. Some animals will have to live in the twilight area in between. Animals on this planet need not alternate active and inactive periods on a regular basis. If an astronaut from such a planet were to visit ours, imagine the surprise he would have, to discover animals that have alternating sleep and active phases every day!
So how does one define ‘wakefulness’ and ‘sleep’? ‘Wakefulness’ is defined as a periodic state of consciousness in which an individual is conscious and engages in cognitive and behavioral responses to the external world. ‘Sleep’ is defined as a daily recurring state of body and mind where the nervous system shuts off and consciousness is practically suspended.
We all know that our body generates its own rhythm of wakefulness and sleep. In an earlier era, psychologists refused to believe so. But experiments showed that the body followed a rhythm that was dependent on external factors like sunlight or temperature. Animals spontaneously generate approximately 24 hour cycles of waking and sleeping.
According to Ted speaker Russell Foster, we spend 36% of our lives asleep (http://www.ted.com/talks/russell_foster_why_do_we_sleep). So if we were to live for 90 years, then we spend 32 years sleeping. This shows that sleep is something that is important to each one of us, yet most of us take it to be an illness and abandon sleep because we consider it to be a waste of time.
“Enjoy the honey heavy dew of slumber.” Shakespeare-Julius Caesar.
According to neuroscientists, the brain does not shut down when one is asleep. They believe more parts of the brain are active when you are asleep than when you are awake. Sleep does not arise from a single structure of the brain but instead from a network of parts that connect to the hypothalamus which is in turn connected to the biological clock. This is why being sleep deprived makes us feel groggy and tired.
Endogenous circadian rhythms
Animals and humans have endogenous circadian rhythms (endogenous means ‘from within’ and circadian means ‘about a day’). This is the reason that if we go without sleep for an entire day, we get sleepier and sleepier in the night, but somehow less sleepy after the sun rises. Also, our urge to sleep depends not on the number of hours we have been awake but on the time of the day it is.
Mammals though known to have a body temperature of 37◦C, have lower temperatures at night and higher temperatures during the day. These circadian rhythms vary among different people. Some “morning people” or “larks” become active early and less alert as the day comes to an end. On the other hand, “night people” or “owls” can stay up later at night but take longer to warm up, literally and figuratively. Some people fall in between, of course.
Managing your rhythms
Fat, was the one word I used, to describe myself until quite some time ago! Weighing a 154 pounds, I knew I was one step away from being obese. But I was a night person and my work for the day was most productive at night, so I couldn’t afford to shut off soon to wake up early. But health became a pressing issue and soon, I pushed myself to work. I put my biological clock through quite a tough schedule by giving myself sleep for only 6 hours a day (it was 8-9 hours earlier). I had to work at night, but I needed to jog in the mornings, which I did and managed to prove all my haters wrong. 8 months later now, I weigh a healthy 110 pounds and still have fresh day hours and deep slumber hours, because I was patiently able to let my biological clock change its rhythm so that it is now set to a proper cycle.
Unlike electric appliances that can be turned on or off, the brain shuts on and off on its own, though sleepiness is a voluntary act. We have mechanisms in our body that prepare us to sleep sometimes and be awake sometimes, even if we want other schedules. But a little determination and motivation can come a long way, if you really want to work towards your goal!
Not all of us are aware of the fact that we are all still sleeping! Try answering this question: You are sleeping. You are dreaming. A scary wolf is chasing you. Every direction you turn, you see a huge, ferocious animal coming after you. What would you do? How would you escape?
The answer is simple; you have to wake up.
Whatever was a huge problem in the dream state would be a non-issue in the waking world. When still stuck in the world of dreaming, we do not enjoy the beauty of this thing that we call human existence.
“Some people dream of success while others wake up and work hard at it!” Decide who you want to be!