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Do Sleep Better

Mark Zoran studies the circadian rhythms of many different organisms, including bacteria, fungi, insects and mammals.
He says that light, irregular work patterns and late-night snacks all have the potential to upset the body's biological clock.

We’ve been told we need eight hours of sleep for a good night’s rest, but a quick survey of Americans finds that most do not meet that mark. “America is pretty much a sleep-deprived society,” said Dr. Mark Zoran, biology professor and associate dean for the College of Science.

Zoran and colleagues in the Center for Biological Clocks Research at Texas A&M work to understand the circadian rhythms of many different organisms, including bacteria, fungi, worms, insects, birds and mammals. For the last 10 years, he has collaborated with Aggie undergraduates on research to understand mechanisms of animal sleep.

Along the way, he’s picked up countless tips for getting some good shut-eye.

Avoid light at night

Looking at a phone or laptop screen before bed is one of the worst things you can do for your biological clock, because exposure to light tricks the body into thinking it’s still daytime.

“Your brain’s clock doesn’t know Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb.” 

“We’ve had the ability to light up our houses with bright light for less than 150 years," Zoran said. "Television was invented less than 75 years ago and mass-marketed personal computers less than 30 years ago. Now everyone has something with light that we constantly shine into our eyes, but our bodies haven’t adapted.”

However, different colors of light have different effects. Red light is used in most digital alarm clocks because its wavelengths are least disruptive to circadian rhythms. Blue light, on the other hand, is most disruptive.

Forego the night shift

A study by the American Psychological Association found that nearly 15 million Americans work a permanent night shift. Not only does shift work have serious health consequences, but it also interrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythms, which are dependent on regular meal times and sleep-wake patterns.

“Our circadian rhythm operates in a repeating 24-hour timeframe and dictates our natural sleep-wake cycle, hormone release and other key functions, but these functions are dramatically altered in people who work night shifts,” Zoran said. “This can lead to fitful sleep and health issues, such as a higher risk for developing obesity, cancer and cardiovascular disease.”

Watch what you eat before bed

Those who frequently consume late-night snacks also run the risk of health issues and sleep loss. Consuming more calories at night results in a greater likelihood of developing obesity or diabetes, because our bodies naturally expend less energy at night to burn new calorie intake.

“Be active and eat during the day, and sleep during the night. This is straightforward, common sense advice that anybody’s grandmother would give them, but absolutely failproof,” said Zoran. “Avoid the midnight munchies—the best thing to do is drink water and go to bed.”