Police Psychology | Sleep
By Doug Gentz, Ph.D., Psychological Services
Chapter 1 of the excellent book on sleep Wide Awake at 3:00 A.M. by Richard M. Coleman describes the “biological clock” that all organisms have built into their nervous systems. Research indicates that the biological clock in a human being’s brain operates on a 25 hour day, about an hour slower than the 24 hour rotation cycle of the earth.
Well designed, frequently replicated experiments
show that if a human being is placed in an environment (think of a cave) without any time cues and left to their own devices regarding when they sleep and wake up, he or she will reliably go to sleep an hour later every night and then awaken an hour later the next morning. So if our human subject goes to bed at midnight the ﬁrst night we can assume he will wake up about 0800 the next day. That night he will tend not to go to bed till 0100 and then sleep till 0900 followed by going to bed at 0200 and getting up at 1000. On day 12 our subject will be going to bed at noon and waking up at 2000 and on day 24 he’ll be back where he started. This natural tendency is called “free-running” and will continue as long as the experiment goes on.
This tendency, while real and ever-present, is weak. It can easily be overcome by the presence of time cues (light, dark, clocks, etc) and self-discipline. It will have a noticeable effect when sleep cycles become irregular. If a subject who goes to bed during the work week at midnight stays up an hour later (0100) on his Friday and then an extra two hours later on his Saturday (0200), then counting the extra hour, he probably won’t want to get up on Sunday until 1100 and won’t feel like sleeping till 0300 that night. When the alarm goes off ﬁve hours later at 0800, he’s three hours short of sleep and may feel a little jet-lagged. Every time a person has to “reset” their biological clock there is an uncomfortable adjustment of some degree ranging from having a hard time waking up to the actual disorienting jet lag experience people have when crossing time zones, especially going east. These adjustments have the short term effect of degrading performance and have long term negative effects on health.
The counter measure to those negative effects is to interfere, to the best of your ability, with your natural tendency towards “free-running.” The most effective way to do that is to do your best to get up at the same time every day, within an hour, seven days out of seven. When you get up turns out to be much more important then when you go to bed.
Blog by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.
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