How Your Bedtime Is Affecting Your Job Performance

Posted November 15, 2012 by
Nancy Ancowitz

Nancy Ancowitz, contributing writer

Society stigmatizes people who are different — not just the well-recognized differences like skin color, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation. The stigmas are also against people of a quieter nature, heavy people (especially women!), short people (especially men!), and older people. Now a different group is emerging from the shadows: night owls.

You might think it’s nobody’s business when you go to bed. However, if you’re trying to hold down — or look for — a 9-to-5 job and you can’t get to sleep each night until the wee hours, you’re probably facing chronic exhaustion, which can affect your health and well-being, and ultimately your performance on the job.

Can’t Sleep? It Might Be More Than Insomnia

What if there were more to being a night owl than you realized? That it wasn’t necessarily a matter of being undisciplined about your sleeping habits, but a biological need?

A colleague who often e-mails me at 4 a.m. recently shared her struggles with delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS), a type of circadian rhythm sleep disorder. So I hope sharing more about delayed sleep will be helpful to you — especially if you or someone close to you is typically wide awake well after midnight, but not because of insomnia.

Peter Mansbach, president of the Circadian Sleep Disorders Network, will share more about the ins and outs of delayed sleep. His organization is an online network of volunteers that provides emotional support and research-based information to improve the lives of people with chronic circadian rhythm disorders, and promotes awareness of these disorders in the medical community and the public. In upcoming stories, you’ll also meet a freelance writer, a software engineer, a draftsperson, and an ethnographer with delayed sleep to learn how they navigate their careers despite their unusual sleep needs.

Get Familiar with Your Body’s Internal Clock

“People have an internal clock that regulates when they sleep, when they are alert, when they best digest their food, even when they fight disease,” says Mansbach, a physicist and software engineer. “For most people, this clock is synchronized with day and night: alert in the day, asleep at night. For some people, however, it is not synchronized with day and night.”

I find the clock image useful.

Circadian Sleep Disorders Network’s website sheds additional light: “Circadian means ‘roughly daily.’ The word was coined some 50 years ago from the Latin terms circa, about, and diem, day. Circadian rhythms cycle daily according to the 24-hour rotation of the earth, and they are internally produced in all living things.”

Based on the statistics on the site, half a million people in the United States — as many women as men — are affected by lifelong delayed sleep, and it is thought to be responsible for 7 to 10 percent of cases of chronic insomnia.

Night Owl or Lark?

“In delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) the body’s clock runs several hours late,” says Mansbach. “The person cannot fall asleep until very late (typically 2 a.m. to 6 a.m.), and needs to sleep correspondingly late in the morning.” That sounds like an extreme night owl.

“Advanced sleep phase disorder is the opposite: the body’s clock is early,” says Mansbach. “A person falls asleep early in the evening, and awakens very early, often at 3 or 4 a.m.,” he adds. Now that sounds like a true lark.

He continues, “In non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder, the body’s clock runs longer than 24 hours. The person falls asleep later and later every day, and her sleep time progresses around the clock. There are other circadian rhythm sleep disorders: irregular sleep-wake disorder, and extreme forms of jet lag and shift work disorders.”  Continue reading . . .

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