Tuesday 22 March 2011

Wake-up call for night owls

EVERY morning is torture for ‘night owls’. When the alarm clock rings, they want to crawl deeper under the covers. Make breakfast? Go to work? Drive a car? All much too much. In their mind’s eye, the new day looks like an endless hurdle.

Where does their aversion to rising early come from?

As Dr Achim Kramer, professor of chronobiology at Berlin’s Charite University Hospital, explained it: "Night owls are still in the deep sleep phase when they’re awakened, which is why it’s so hard for them to get up."

They have a slower biological clock, the circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle, that ticks differently for every individual.

Chronobiologists basically distinguish between two types of people: ‘early birds’, also known as ‘larks’ and ‘night owls’. "Early birds are active early, while night owls have to drag themselves out of bed in the morning," Kramer said.

A person’s circadian rhythm is genetically determined. "Night owls’ biological clock ticks more slowly. If left undisturbed, they’d wake up later in the morning," Kramer noted.

When the alarm clock goes off, night owls are jolted awake from a deep, sound sleep. So they get up in a foul mood.

"People who want to avoid this can experiment with wake-up times a bit," advised Sabine Schonert-Hirz, a health and stress management specialist in Germany, adding it was often sufficient to set the alarm clock to ring a half-hour earlier.

"You’ve got to catch a phase when you’re sleeping only lightly," Kramer added. Every 90 minutes or so, our sleep phase changes among dream sleep (rapid eye movement sleep, or REM sleep), light sleep and deep sleep. Waking up from deep sleep is especially difficult.

Someone unable to catch the right phase can use a sleep phase alarm clock as an aid. "These alarm clocks register the sleeper’s movements and can therefore recognise phases of wakefulness or light sleep," explained Juergen Zulley, a researcher at the Sleep Disorders Centre at Regensburg University Hospital.

They awaken the sleeper within a pre-determined time frame. "This can be a real improvement for night owls," added Zulley.

All three sleep experts agreed that night owls should try to wake up gently. "A loud, beeping alarm clock may be effective, but it’s hardly conducive to a good mood," Zulley said.

A dawn simulator, on the other hand, wakes up sleepers noiselessly. "When it’s light, our body curtails production of the sleep hormone melatonin. We wake up automatically," Zulley said, adding that a dawn simulator combined with a radio or music alarm clock was ideal and "promotes a good mood".

Instead of bounding out of bed immediately, Schonert-Herz suggested getting into gear gradually. "Loll in bed like a cat and stretch your entire body. This activates the brain," she said.

To boost blood circulation, she added, fresh air is helpful, for example from an open window. Light is also a waker-upper. "If it’s still dark in the morning, a daylight lamp provides the necessary illuminance." The bluer the light, the stronger the waking power.

"By the same token, night owls should keep the level of lighting down in the evening so that they feel sleepy sooner," Kramer added.

Hardy souls can start the day with a cold shower, Zulley said. "It’s unpleasant at first but optimally stimulates blood circulation in the whole body. Afterwards, you feel fresh and fit."

It is also important to have time. "Someone who tends to be grumpy in the morning ought not to intensify the grumpiness with stress," Schonert-Hirz said. "Having to rush makes everything worse."

Eating a hearty breakfast not only energises the enervated, it is also an antidote to grumpiness. An ideal breakfast, she said, would be a combination of bread or muesli, fruit, dairy products, an egg and a stimulant like black tea or coffee.

But she warned: "Keep sugar consumption at moderate levels, otherwise the body releases stress hormones."

People who are always grouchy in the morning should consider changing their sleeping patterns. "Adults regularly need seven hours of sleep a night," Zulley noted.

Night owls, in particular, find it difficult to go to bed in the evening, however. Although a person’s biological clock cannot be completely altered, some fine-tuning is possible.

"Try to work on your habits," Zulley said. Relaxation rituals in the evening such as taking a warm bath or reading instead of watching television can make it easier to fall asleep a little earlier. – dpa

Source: The Sun Daily


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