Before we jump in into this, let me first give you an introduction about our precious sleep and breakdown a couple of terms you may not familiar about.
Sleeping is apparently not as simple as we close our eyes and wander through the islands and islands of cotton candy dream. It contains several phase that differs in function and duration. The two big stages of sleep are the NREM and REM stage. REM stands for rapid eye movement, in this stage your eyes move rapidly in different directions. This doesn’t happen in Non-REM (NREM) stage.
First you go through the NREM phase then comes a short period REM, then the cycle starts over again. Dreams usually happen in the REM phase.
NREM: Non Rapid Eye Movement
There are three phases to this. Each phase can last from 5 to 15 minutes, and you have to go through all phases before go into the REM stage.
- Phase 1: your eyes are closed, but it’s easy to wake you up.
- Phase 2: you are in light sleep. What the fuck? This means your body is adjusting before going into the deep sleep. Your heart rate slows, and your core body temperature drops.
- Phase 3: now this is the deep sleep. It’s harder to rouse you in this phase, and if somebody woke you up, you would feel a bit disoriented for a few minutes.
REM: Rapid Eye Movement
Usually, REM happens 90 minutes after you fall asleep. The first period of REM usually lasts up to 10 minutes. Each of the later periods gets longer, and the final one may last up to one hour. Your heart and breathing quickens. You can have intense dreams during your REM stage since the brain is more active in this stage.
Our Brain as a PC
One metaphor that you can really relate to easily and help you get some sense of what your alarm clocks do to your sleep maybe is a comparison of the REM-NREM cycle to a PC. During the day, you store new data in RAM memory while learning and experiencing new things. During the night (sleeping), you start writing down the data to the hard disk during the NREM stage. Then, during the REM stage which follows the NREM you do the disk defragmentation, i.e. you organise data, sort them, build new connections, etc. Overnight, you repeat the write-in-defragment cycle until all RAM data is neatly written to the disk (for long-term use), so your RAM is clear and ready for a new day of learning and storing some fresh data. At waking up, you reboot the computer. If you reboot too early using the alarm clock, you often left your disk fragmented because the process isn’t really over but you force it to stop. Your data access then become slow, and your thinking process is easily distracted and mixed up. Even worse, some of the data may not even get written to the disk because you interfere the process, meanwhile on the other side, your RAM is already cleared so it is as if you have never stored in the RAM in the first place. In conclusion, if you use an alarm clock, you endanger your data.
You may say many people use alarm clocks and live. Yet this is not much different from smoking, abusing drugs, or indulging fat-dripping pork. You may abuse your brain with alcohol for years and still become the president (not talking about certain people though), so it’s purely individual choice.
More on this sleeping topic, 2% of the population is considered to be the sleepless elite. Sounds cool? It is.
For a small group of people, perhaps just 1-3% of the population, sleep is a waste of time. Natural “short sleepers”, as they’re officially known (or anything you want to call them), are night owls and early birds simultaneously. During the day they don’t need caffeine, as they are energetic and upbeat. they turn in well after midnight, then get up just a few hours later and barrel through the day without the urges to take naps or load up on caffeine.
As if it’s not enough, they’re also tend to be thin (thanks to the fast metabolism), energetic, upbeat, outgoing, ambitious, and they have high tolerance for physical and psychological pain. But (there’s always a but), before you consider yourself as a sleepless elite, let me warn this to you. Out of 100 people who consider they only need 5-6 hours of sleep, only about 5 people really do. The rest end up chronically sleep deprived, and experienced other side effects from the lack of sleeping.
You’ve been warned.