Our Natural Pattern
When it comes to sleep disruption, there is a complex physiology at work.
Russell Foster is a neuroscientist at Oxford University who has published many works on sleep patterns and their physical and mental effects. In an interview with the BBC, Dr. Foster explains that the rhythm of sleep is partially determined by the natural cycle of night and day as light is perceived by the eyes.
That’s not the whole story, however. Some people’s body clocks are different, i.e., “night owls”. For these people, night is a more productive time. Melatonin (one of the hormones that influence sleep) is regulated by the body clock. In most people, melatonin peaks between 4:00 and 6:00 a.m. but in some it’s ten to twelve hours later. Listening to your own body clock is very important for your health, he concludes.
Thomas Wehr agrees:
“Further research will be necessary to determine whether, and to what extent, darkness per se or factors associated with the dark condition were responsible for the differences that we observed in the subjects’ sleep.” (3)
Benefits of Segmented Sleep
Dr. Foster notes, “Many people wake up at night and panic. I tell them that what they are experiencing is a throwback to the bi-modal sleep pattern.” (4)
In a 2008 study, he states:
“The alarm clock can drive human activity rhythms but has little direct effect on our endogenous 24 hour physiology. In many situations, our biology and our society appear to be in serious opposition, and the damaging consequences to our health under these circumstances are increasingly recognised.” (5)