Sleep Basics affecting Sleep TIMING

Sleep is a many splendored thing

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Part I of a three-part article in the Sleep Series

Courtesy of artist-educator Phillip Martin

Courtesy of artist-educator Phillip Martin

For most of the history of mankind, human beings divided life itself into two parts  — awake and asleep.

Other than cultures who were into dream interpretation in a big way, most people didn’t think much about sleep beyond that idea.

Most of us still don’t think about it much, unless we are forced to do so because we are having trouble sleeping or trouble staying awake.

Early to Bed, Early to Rise

Until the widespread availability of the electric light bulb, only beginning to come to public awareness around the dawn of the 20th century, most humans set their sleep-wake schedules in reaction to the availability of light, truly believing that they had made a pragmatic decision.

Oh sure, way back in the day somebody had to stay awake to protect the sleeping tribe, and many warring tribes chose to attack under cover of darkness, but there wasn’t a whole lot that the others could DO once darkness descended.

So they went to bed.

If they thought about it at all, most people probably believed they fell asleep quickly because they were exhausted from the demands of life in the primarily agrarian lifestyle of most of the human race for centuries. Little did they suspect that the reason sleep came so easily was a factor of what we call “entrainment to the light/dark cycle,” aided by the structure of their regular schedules.

[Fun Fact:  Edison did NOT invent the light bulb. In 1874, the incandescent bulb was granted its first patent in Canada, applied for by medical student Henry Woodward and his partner, Mathew Evans, a hotel keeper, later purchased by Thomas Edison prior to his improvements and subsequent US Patent]

NOT burning the candles at both ends

Even the relatively early creation of candles did little to change mankind’s early-to-bed, early-to-rise habits. The process of making those waxy tapers that provided light on demand was a huge time and energy commitment.

In addition, in relationship to the resources available to most of the human beings on the earth, candles were expensive — reserved primarily for emergency use, and to see the way through darkened stairways and passages on the way to bed.  They weren’t wasted for activities that could be accomplished by the light of day.

No matter if those candles had burned long into the night, however, they wouldn’t have done much to alter circadian rhythms all by themselves – even multiple candles are simply not BRIGHT enough to do so. Since flame emits light in the yellow spectrum range, they also would not have produced light in the frequency it would take to affect the sleep/wake cycle.

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Time Marches On

Today, things are VERY different.  Maybe in some other century in the far distant future our brains will have evolved to accommodate what is expected of them in today’s fast-paced, high-stress, 24/7 environment, but right now our brains are struggling.

Not only do we expect shift-work sleep schedules from a large number of people in industrialized societies, “working late” is expected as “downsizing” marches on. Smaller workforces struggle to maintain increased work-product expectations without the administrative support that the generation before took for granted.

Office workers who are supposedly on nine-to-five schedules are required to further disrupt their sleep schedules on demand by getting up earlier to be able to attend that horrendous “team-building and mentoring support” idea propagated by Lark workaholics: the dreaded Breakfast Meeting!

No WONDER circadian-rhythm disorders are on the rise!

Circadian Rhythm Disorders are disorders of sleep TIMING

Graphic from BPD Bunny

Graphic from BPD Bunny

Earlier articles in the Sleep Series touted the importance of the sleep cycle to our mental and physical functioning when we are awake.

Sufficient, regular, high-quality sleep is essential for adequate functioning across the board.

We have come a long way from the days when it was believed that the only side-effect of sleep deprivation was sleepiness!

As I began in Health, Success and Successful Sleeping:

The “average” sleep-deprived individual (even without ADD or any of the “alphabet disorders” in the mix), is less alert, less attentive, and far less able to concentrate effectively, making it MUCH harder to learn or remember much of anything.

Persistent sleep deprivation can also lead to mood swings – sometimes severe enough to be misdiagnosed as Bi-Polar Disorder.

Even at the more moderate levels most often seen in lack-of-sleep-stupor, an individual at the effect of a lack of emotional control

  • is less effective intellectually
  • creates problems on the job and in personal relationships
  • is less likely to be able to drift peacefully off to sleep once he or she goes to bed
  • which exacerbates the entire dynamic that created the chronic state of sleep-debt in the first place.

Even worse, because sleep is linked to restorative processes, sleep deprivation in an otherwise “normal” adult creates a biological challenge similar to fighting off an infection. (Ongoing research is examining the negative effects of sleep deprivation on the entire immune system.)

If you throw the functioning destabilization of TBI or an Attentional Spectrum disorder into the mix, can you see how the effect of one upon the other could lead to disaster?

When asked about their sleep habits, most of my ADD-EFD (etc.) clients report chronorhythm destabilization.

No, they don’t use that term, but their description of their relationship to sleep is classic!

  • WideAwakeMany don’t feel the urge to sleep until midnight or after (long after, for some)
  • MOST say it takes them “forever” to fall asleep, even when they avoid caffeine and forgo evening medication, barely functional in the evening hours as a result.

When their head hits the pillow, they feel no call to drift off to sleep, even when it’s late and they’re whipped.

  • VERY few have ever recalled bounding out of bed early in the morning, energizer bunnies ready to take on the day – at least not since they were very young.

Most report extreme sluggishness for some time after awakening – no matter how many hours they’ve been asleep (or how many days they’ve been religious about dedicating those hours to sleep, forgoing some late-night fun activity to do so).

More than a few regularly sleep through their alarms — even those with LOUD alarms.  Many “hit-the-snooze” repeatedly.

Then there are the zombies – their bodies are moving but their brains aren’t on board.

  • And almost ALL of them “blame” their primary diagnosis (or their medication) without ever considering the possibility of destabililized sleep architecture — much less the possibility that their functioning might improve considerably if their sleep-functioning were to support their waking hours, instead of making things harder.

What about YOU?  Most people can restabilize with a bit of concerted effort – which starts with understanding the importance of expending that effort.

So NOW what?

Unfortunately, understanding the importance of high-quality sleep offers little help to those of us who can’t fall asleep when we need to or wake up when we want to. Lack of sleep structure leads to more of the same, so how do we break the cycle?

That’s where understanding sleep-timing basics becomes important.

Thanks to the relatively recent acceptance of long-time scientific evidence from sleep scientists well aware of the importance of sleep regulation – investigating what helps, what hurts and why – millions of us are closer than we’ve ever been to getting a good night’s rest.

It is now possible for most of us to learn about and understand the positive and negative physiological effects of light sources (natural and artificial) to our ability to “entrain our chronorhythms” and regulate our circadian pacemakers — in ways designed to allow us to live productive and successful waking lives.

Harkening to the snores of the sleep-deprived

Finally, sleep scientists and those of us who have been struggling with sleep have raised enough ruckus that the rest of the world is starting to LISTEN to what sleep science has been saying for decades: human beings can’t function effectively when our sleep schedules are a mess!

It’s no coincidence that sleep regulation struggles increase as we age, by the way, which means that a huge population of Baby Boomers are now on the same side of the sleep-timing fence as the those of us with “alphabet disorders!” (CLICK on ABOUT ADD and Sleep Struggles for more about 75% of the ADDers)

It’s ALSO no coincidence that NASA scientists, concerned about the danger to pilots and astronauts with destabilized chronorhythms, have been conducting ongoing research about the effects of light on optic photoreceptors – which becomes even more important in the planning of the proposed manned trip to Mars.

Not only will the astronauts be subjected to a change in the daily light/dark cycle, the entrainment factor of Mars’ yellow and red spectrum light is considerably less than the bluer wavelengths to which we have evolved to respond here on Earth. Impaired day-time alertness is not something NASA wants to see from the surface of Mars!

  • FINALLY, sleep scientists following in the footsteps of William Dement
    (“the founder of sleep medicine”) and mentor, Nathaniel Kleitman
    (“the founder of sleep research”), may be able to secure sufficient funding
    to develop effective medications and treatment protocols for disorders of
    sleep timing.
  • FINALLY, the publication of information about the importance of
    high-quality sleep to physical and mental health will be pervasive
    enough that all ADD Coaches will be able to hear how vitally important
    it is to understand the mechanics of sleep, to be able to help ALL
    of their clients develop work-arounds until we have better solutions.

As you learned in Sleep and Cognition:

liftarn_A_person_sleeping_90x90To cooperate with earth’s 24 hour day/night cycle, our biological clock seems to need regular environmental time cues — for example, sunrise, sunset, and/or a daily sleep/wake routine. Time cues are what keep our body clocks aligned with the rest of our world.

The successful shifting of current circadian rhythms to those that coordinate with earth’s 24 hour day is referred to as “entrainment.”

So let’s begin to take a look at what it is that allows those time cues to have their entrainment effect: the human response to light.

Obeying the Laws of Photobiology

One of the most important reasons for regulating our sleep schedule is to stabilize the timing of the quality of light to which we are exposed, which helps to further stabilize our sleep timing.

In order for work-arounds (and treatment protocols) for circadian rhythm dysfunctions to be successful, we ALL need to understand and cooperate with what are sometimes referred to as the basic laws of photobiology.

“Photobiology” — what IS it?

According to Wikipedia,

Photobiology is the scientific study of the interactions of light (technically, non-ionizing radiation) and living organisms.

The field includes the study of  [a number of areas, including] visual processing, circadian rhythms . . . and ultraviolet radiation effects.”

Five Laws of Photobiology that affect Circadian Entrainment

I will expand on each of the following laws in Parts II and III of this article,
and begin to explain what we know about how and why:

* HOW our body “sets its clock,” and
* WHY it’s important to DO some things and AVOID others.


1. Visible-spectrum light regulates

Visible light is the primary regulator of the human circadian response.

In a human being, the therapeutic effects of light (on the day/night cycle, or upon any given organ) depends upon the wavelength transmitted to the brain (primarily through the eye’s retina but also through the skin and EVEN, studied since this post was originally published, through the ear canal!)

2. Only light that is absorbed will have an effect 

Otherwise, it can’t be registered — and it matters what kind of light is absorbed when.

3. Relative effectiveness is important

“Relative Effectiveness” means, in this case,
(a) whether or not it will produce a particular biological response
– for our purposes, entrainment
(b) whether it produces a strong enough response, which is applicable to both natural and artificial sources.

4. Timing matters

The exposure to the spectrum of light present at different times of day produces different shifts in human bodily processes.

5. Light is reflective

Reflective properties matter more than you might think, because it changes relative effectiveness.

Upcoming Articles will go over other sleep basics — like the cycling of the sleep stages, which will underscore the importance of allowing yourself enough time to cycle through them all (which will help to explain WHY some amounts of sleep make it harder to wake up at a certain time, and how to tweak to make it easier). 

We’ll also take a closer look at some of the symptoms when chronorhythms destabilize — SO STAY TUNED.

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

9 Responses to Sleep Basics affecting Sleep TIMING

  1. Pingback: Sleep Timing and Time Tangles | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  2. andy wolmer says:

    very informative


  3. Pingback: The Trials and Tribulations of Engaging Learning In An Owl With PDA | Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome an autistic spectrum disorder

  4. Dr. Rex says:

    Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Sleep basics ….. so very important for our health and wellbeing!


    • READERS:
      click over to see what Dr. Rex has to say about sleep (search for it to get a blogroll of her articles). Similar to the variety of topics here on ADDandSoMuchMore, she blogs about a variety of topics on It is What it Is. If you like what I do, you’ll like what she does. Check out her bio on the ABOUT page. She’s a world-changer.


  5. Thanks for getting in touch. I’ll be spending some time on your good blog! Mine is:


    • Oh Baby! – do I know YOUR site! I have linked it several times already since I found it earlier tonight (LAST night, actually — N-24 anyone? 😐 )

      You have put together an AMAZING resource — my hat is OFF to you!

      I wish you had been around “back in the day” when I was desperate for information.

      If it hadn’t been for Su Laine’s GeoCity’s posts, I’d have struggled on for MANY more years – thus the l-o-n-g attribution on “Owls, Larks & Camels” <===link) She actually spoke at one of my early ADD Hours™ (global & virtual) – you and she seem to be cut from the same cloth.

      Thanks for stopping by – and leaving me a comment. If you have posts I haven't found that add to anything I'm doing in the Sleep Series, put the link in the comments section & I'll approve it AND add it to the article itself, since not everyone reads the comments. (one link per comment or you'll be autospammed before I ever see it, but I'll approve as many as you leave – sight unseen – based on what I've seen so far.) GREAT blog!
      READERS: If you are struggling with Sleep Timing issues, you simply MUST jump over there and take a look for yourselves.


  6. Peggy Ramundo says:

    Great article about a “timely” issue. . .a number of my clients could really use this information. I will be sending them the link to this highly relevant and fact-filled post.


    • Thanks, Peggy – that means a lot, coming from you. The second half of this two-part article in the Sleep Series is a bit more “dense” (scientifically), but it explains A LOT about what’s going on when sleep’s not working — fairly simply, I believe. I’m working on the references before I post – but see if you can talk them into reading Part 2 when it comes out.


      READERS: learn more about Peggy (and why her comment means a lot) by clicking over to read her trainer bio immediately BELOW
      Meet your ASCT Trainers: Peggy Ramundo


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