Friday, June 18, 2010
For the first time in months I look forward to seeing the light of day. Prior to this, I was really stressed out. Night shifts didnt help either. I was sleeping really late, and getting only around 5 hours of sleep a day on average. I didnt feel like eating, I didnt feel like eating, I didnt feel like doing anything really and had no real motivation to even study.
Our lives are governed broadly by two competing systems in the body. We could be at a restful state, or we could be at an active state. In a restful state, your body tries to take care of itself; digesting food and repairing damage at a cellular level. In an active state,... your body primes itself for action; for movement and activity. The things you would do in a restful state are slowed or shut down when you are in an active state.
A balance between a restful state and an active state will result in greater wellbeing. You need to be active at times when you should be active - having the energy to exercise, do work, and participate in activities in general. Problems arise when you are too active at the expense of rest. Without enough rest, your body's natural functions for maintaining itself could be suppressed - leading to poor digestion, low appetite and a host of stress related diseases.
The human body automatically tries to make you active during the day and restful during the night. This is linked to light exposure that triggers certain parts of your brain. The modern world however is filled with bright lights and this has the effect of disorientating your body's natural ability to regulate when it should be active and when it should be restful (circadian rhythm).
Bright artificial lights may keep you awake at night... but at what cost? I dim the lights of my room in sync with daylight. I wake up to daylight. Just weeks ago when I was sleeping late (around 3am), I used to struggle to get even 6 hours of sleep. Now I can get 8 hours with no difficulty. And the quality of the sleep is amazing. I wake up feeling so rested and ready for the new day. My body is in balance. My mind is rested.
This holiday was like no other. My sleeping time got pushed even further ahead and I was sleeping around 7am every day. Until Dota. As in Defence of the Ancients, arguably the most popular real time strategy game in the world. My friends who are having their exams this month introduced me to it, and I got hooked.
Dota allowed me to do what I have always wanted to do: Reset my circadian (sleep) cycle. After staying awake all night, I decided to continue playing Dota until the evening; and succeeded! I slept at 6pm that fateful day, and my sleep cycle was reset.
I now sleep at around 9am and wake at around 5.00am. It's good, restful sleep. For some reason, sleeping at 7am and waking up at 3pm is just not the same. 8 hours of sleep at night is really wonderful, and I find myself looking forward to the day ahead.
It has had stunning effects on my eating pattern. I can finally say that I am eating three solid meals a day with minimal reflux and no problems with slow digestion (gastroparesis). This means that I am much more well fed and it shows. I have the energy to actually do stuff now. Waking up at 5am and having a heavy meal for breakfast (600kcal++, rice w/dishes, left over roast/pasta) means I have energy to do stuff doing the productive hours of the day. I really wish I had been doing this all along. I feel so much more vibrant. More alive. You've probably heard that eating a heavy breakfast does wonders for you - I can testify that it is true. Note that it is very difficult to eat a heavy breakfast if you do not have enough sleep! Forcefully waking yourself up in a sleep deprived state suppresses your appetite and you will find it very difficult to eat a 600kcal+ meal (600kcal is roughly the same as a small big mac meal from McDonalds).
My appetite throughout the day has also improved. I eat well for lunch and dinner now as I have the appetite for it. This means I feel great when going to the gym and have lots of energy to spare for other activities of daily living.
Eight hours of sleep and plenty of energy has made me unbelievably more mentally focused. I can now sit down and read an entire UpToDate article on a complex topic (say, Evaluation Of A Child With Chronic Diarrhea) and stay focused from start to finish - integrating principles in my head as I go along. I dont feel sleepy. I stay sharp. I find myself thinking of what I have read for the minutes after finishing the article; a good sign that my brain is absorbing knowledge instead of just shutting out when drowsy. Sleep helps you remember things; this is proven fact. The brain seems to store things in long term memory when you sleep. Hence, trying to deprive yourself of sleep to study is not wise at all!
Socially I find myself more inclined to talk to people and remember things about them. In short, I am more empathetic when well fed and well rested. I noticed that the way I interact with people and the way people interact with me improved significantly in the past week. If personality really is the tip of the iceberg of a person's general wellbeing, then the coming months should see some pretty significant changes in my personality.
I feel so much more positive. So alive.
Let light of day shine!