Now that many of us are re-entering the workplace, bleary-eyed, squinting at the light and searching for respectable pants, the snooze button will have to become a thing of the past. As will napping. And wearing pyjamas to meetings. The Lockdown did a number on our sleep patterns and it seems the return to "normal" life is going to do the same.
With advice on maintaining a healthy sleep routine, and answering listener questions, was Professor Andrew Coogan, Behavioural Neuroscientist specialising in sleep at the Department of Psychology in Maynooth University on Today with Claire Byrne. So what is a healthy sleep routine?
"When we sleep at the weekend or a workfree day, is actually how we want to sleep – so it's the working day that’s out of kilter […] The reason we use an alarm clock is we’re not ready to wake up yet. Our body isn’t ready but we’re having to wake up because of our social obligations, our work obligations and everything."
So perhaps we shouldn’t discount that snooze button quite yet? Professor Coogan explained that the mismatch between our working-day and work-free sleeping patterns can be mentally and physically harmful. And what of the harm that we do to ourselves with late night box-set binges and endless doom-scrolling? Well, it turns out it has a name: Revenge Bedtime Procrastination. He explains:
"This comes from a Chinese study and it’s a translation from the Chinese phrase, where people felt so stressed in their workday, they felt that their whole day was taken up with their work, and it’s revenge on that by trying to carve a little bit of me-time out at the end of the day."
Something especially relevant for parents, with their offsprings on-switch set for "obnoxiously early" Monday to Sunday. Listener questions came in thick and relatively fast (considering how tired so many of us seem to be) and the first topic Professor Coogan dealt with was insomnia. While we commonly understand insomnia to be the inability to fall asleep, one caller described the symptoms of Sleep Maintenance Insomnia:
"What your listener there is describing is the ability to fall asleep ok, to get a few hours’ sleep, but then to wake up. So, we’re failing to maintain our sleep. How we really want to sleep is in a consolidated block."
Unfortunately, this type of sleep disruption becomes more frequent with age, but Professor Coogan recommended quiet, low-light, restful time when you’re awoken like this – and avoid scrolling at all costs. Blue light glasses, you say?
"There is a biological reason why they might work but the real-world evidence is somewhat lacking."
Boom. And we’re all familiar with the night owl/early bird dichotomy, but more specifically these are referred to as chronotypes and can change throughout our lives – some of this is genetic and some is a function of environment – but can we actively try to change our chronotype?
"You can probably adjust it a little bit. So, for example, if you were an evening type and wanted to become more like a morning type by restricting your evening light consumption, and particularly from devices, and enhance your morning light consumption. And the best way to do that is to get up and go outside."
Light, then, is the key. It’s light that sets our body clock; the circadian system. So what about seasonal changes? Shorter nights in summer and shorter days in winter. What if we collectively told our employers that in the winter, work won’t start until 11am? Professor Coogan didn’t knock the idea:
"There’s some evidence to suggest that if we can work according to our chronotype, we’re actually more productive doing that."
And what about napping? Can that make us more productive? Andrew was able to cut to the point:
"If you’re at home and you feel like having a nap, and you’re not having problems falling asleep then in the evening, I think that’s the key thing, it’s certainly not doing you any harm."
I think that’s my cue.
You can hear Claire’s full conversation with Professor Andrew Coogan by going here.
- Written by Gemma Cradock.