Can our days be spent unsystematically?
Updated: Aug 21, 2021
In the summer of 1997, NASA’s Pathfinder spacecraft landed on the surface of Mars and began transmitting beyond belief images back to Earth. But several days in, something went awfully wrong. The transmissions stopped.
Pathfinder was in effect, procrastinating: keeping itself fully employed but failing to do its most important job. What was going on?
There was a bug as it turned out, in its scheduler. Every operating system consists of a scheduler that tells the CPU the duration of each task before switching, and what to switch to. Done right, computers move so fluidly between their different responsibilities that they give the illusion of doing everything simultaneously. But we know what happens when things go haywire...
Likewise, every cell in our bodies has its very own clock. Unlike the conventional clocks that we are used to, the clocks in our cells have no cogs or gears: they are biological. Our biological clocks keep near-perfect time with the 24-h cycle of light and dark on Earth called the circadian rhythm which regulates the timing of activities like eating, sleeping, and temperature.
Now let’s get to the science. Genes involved in circadian rhythms operate according to feedback loops. This means that when sufficient proteins are manufactured, this sends a signal to the gene to cease further production of the protein. You also have something called a master clock in your brain which is comprised of approximately 20,000 neurons and is located in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The master clock is accountable for the governance of all the biological clocks in the body. When you wake up in the morning, sunlight enters your eyes, reaching the brain and affecting the activity of certain genes that help you power up for the day. For over four billion years, the sun was the only source of light on planet Earth. Only 150 years ago, Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. We take our access to light for granted—it is as effortless as the flick of a switch. However, should we flick the switch more cautiously or should we? Research clearly demonstrates that artificial light hampers our circadian rhythms.
In today’s era here is a newer adversary to our circadian rhythms: LED screens. Phones, computers, and tele
visions have LED screens, which emit a huge amount of blue light. When Sun emits this blue light, our brains get the signal from retinal neurons, “it is daytime, stay awake!” The SCN (a region located in the hypothalamus) responds by inhibiting the production of a hormone that makes us drowsy, called melatonin. Hence, during the sunset, melatonin is produced which makes us feel sleepy.
Now imagine what happens when LED screens are turned on after dark. The blue light will be detected by the same neurons, so your brain gets the same signal, “it is daytime, stay awake,” and hence reduced amounts of melatonin are produced. To avoid disrupting our circadian clocks, we should try not to use electronic devices after dark. This may seem far-reaching, but just one night of sleep loss and circadian confusion can have serious effects on
the body and mind, especially on teenagers. Teenagers are so full of possibilities, so full of life and yet research shows that most teens do not get the sleep that they need on a daily basis. Excessive use of electronics leads to the disturbance of the circadian cycle which can, in turn, play with a teen’s body and mind in the long run.
Have you ever wondered why Benjamin Franklin said- “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise?” This is because the circadian rhythm strictly emphasizes the fact that someone who gets enough sleep and starts work early in the day will have the most successful life.