The Science of Sleep

(Shutterstock image)

(Shutterstock image)

Want to feel rested? Don’t oversleep:

Oversleeping feels so much like a hangover that scientists call it sleep drunkenness. But, unlike the brute force neurological damage caused by alcohol, your misguided attempt to stock up on rest makes you feel sluggish by confusing the part of your brain that controls your body’s daily cycle.

Your internal rhythms are set by your circadian pacemaker, a group of cells clustered in the hypothalamus, a primitive little part of the brain that also controls hunger, thirst, and sweat. Primarily triggered by light signals from your eye, the pacemaker figures out when it’s morning and sends out chemical messages keeping the rest of the cells in your body on the same clock.

Scientists believe that the pacemaker evolved to tell the cells in our bodies how to regulate their energy on a daily basis. When you sleep too much, you’re throwing off that biological clock, and it starts telling the cells a different story than what they’re actually experiencing, inducing a sense of fatigue. You might be crawling out of bed at 11am, but your cells started using their energy cycle at seven. This is similar to how jet lag works.

I used to suffer from terrible insomnia. I’d be up for a day or more, feeling miserable during all the extra hours I was awake. Then I’d sleep for too many hours and feel even worse after finally waking up. My energy would usually return just when I needed to get back to sleep.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Fatherhood cured the problem at both ends — always tired enough to fall asleep; never enough time to sleep too long.