Lights Out: The Seasonality of Sleep and Sugar
At Ranger School we often joke about the students being solar powered. You can take a squad that does pretty well during the day and as soon as the sun sets they turn into blithering idiots. Just barely moving bags of sadness meandering like a “Family Circus” cartoon through the woods falling asleep while walking and drooling on themselves.
Actually, put anyone in a sleep deprived situation and they’ll experience the same thing. You see it in college students during finals or in someone who has been pulling all nighters for work.
Now whose noticed that they can tolerate less sleep during the summer than in the winter? I know I just asked a question to the internet, but bear with me. Its sort of a real experience. You are more likely to put gloves on your feet and shoes on your hands during winter finals than spring for the most part.
Its because our body is somewhat solar powered.
It all has to do with how we evolved during a dark and frigid Ice Age. Humans may not hibernate like bears do, but we certainly take it easier in the winter than the summer.
We get a lot of our essential vitamins and minerals from the sun and from plants. Both of which would have been in short supply during the winter. For those of us who live in the modern world where we can eat mangos in the dead of winter, we run into the problem of just confusing the hell out of the body.
Our hormones are expecting us to experience a glycogen shortage and also a shortage of many of the vitamins and minerals we need to survive. For that reason our body will increase the production of some non-essential vitamins and minerals to ensure normal, if not subdued, hormonal and other metabolic processes.
While its up regulating the amounts of some chemicals and hormones it is producing, it is down regulating others. Its kind of common sense. The body needs ‘X’ amount of a chemical to do essential function ‘Y’. It can either make it itself or get it from an outside source that also contains sugar and other chemicals. Through evolution, the body and its symbiotic bacteria know that the external source is only available part of the year.
While the brain does not have a Julian calendar saved on its desktop like a computer does, it does have the ability to perceive and subconsciously analyze things like temperature and amount of ultraviolet light exposure.
It just makes sense that this system would become more sensitive to the effects of sugar in the winter than in the summer. It also makes sense that it would require more sleep because it is trying to accomplish the difficult task of producing enough of its own chemical compounds to keep the system moving.
I would imagine that there is a huge amount of genetic variation among different ethnicities with this. Much like how Scandinavians have developed an adulthood lactose tolerance while other cultures have not, I would imagine that someone from the Indonesia would be less affected by sugar in winter than someone from England or northern Japan.
The same also holds true for sleep. Humans are, to a great extent, solar powered. We need the Vitamin D from the sun for a large variety of essential processes. We also need more maintenance in winter.
Sleep more in winter than you do in summer and eat seasonally.