You can't sleep in on a Saturday, despite being exhausted.

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March 30th 2024.

You can't sleep in on a Saturday, despite being exhausted.
Have you ever experienced that annoying feeling of waking up at 6am on a Saturday, the same time you usually set your alarm for work? You're exhausted, and all you want is to be fast asleep, but here you are, up with the lark. So what's the deal? Well, according to sleep scientist Dr. Rebecca Robbins, there's actually a scientific reason behind your body's tendency to wake up at the same time every day.

It all comes down to our circadian rhythm, also known as our internal biological clock. This clock regulates the timing of biological and hormonal processes in our body, following a 24-hour schedule. "This is crucial for our ability to sleep," explains Dr. Rebecca. "The hormone melatonin, which helps us fall asleep, is released by our brain when we approach our usual bedtime and are exposed to darkness."

But what about those days when we don't have to wake up early? Shouldn't we be able to sleep in and catch up on some much-needed rest? Well, it turns out that our internal clock is still set to our regular 9-to-5 schedule, and changing it is not an easy task. "A lie-in might sound luxurious, or even seem like a good sleep habit, but unfortunately, sleeping in for more than 45 minutes can disrupt our circadian rhythm," warns Dr. Rebecca. "Even just one hour can throw off our internal system and make it harder for us to fall asleep the following night."

This idea that we need a solid eight hours of sleep during the night is actually a myth, according to elite sports sleep coach Nick Littlehales. He explains that sleep can be spread throughout the day, just like many other mammals do. "For us, this type of sleep would add up to eight hours over the course of 24 hours, giving us multiple opportunities to rest and process what's happened while we were awake," says Nick.

Unfortunately, polyphasic sleeping is not the norm for humans, and it's not easy to achieve. But it's important to have a consistent sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, to keep our internal clock in check. "Our biological clock craves consistency, and light is its most powerful input," adds Dr. Rebecca. "Natural, blue daylight spectrum light is key for our circadian system to function properly."

So, how can we get a better night's sleep? Vicki Beevers, CEO of The Sleep Charity, shares some tips. First, avoid using electronic devices, such as phones and TVs, at least an hour before bedtime. These devices are highly stimulating and emit light that can suppress melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep. It's also crucial to have a regular sleep schedule, exercise during the day, eat well, and avoid alcohol and sugary snacks before bed. A relaxing bedtime routine can also help us wind down and prepare for sleep.

And for those who struggle with sleep, know that you're not alone. 40% of the adult population also has difficulties sleeping. If you need support, you can call The Sleep Charity's national helpline. And while the recommended amount of sleep for adults is between 7 to 9 hours, busy schedules often make it challenging to achieve. But there are ways to catch up on sleep, according to Dr. Rebecca. "The best way is to wake up at your usual time and take a power nap in the afternoon." So next time you find yourself up with the lark, remember that your internal clock is just doing its job, and with a little understanding and good sleep habits, you can get the rest you need.

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