February 12, 2013 | 1
Editor’s note: Researchers exploring Mars via rover and satellite have to adapt to the longer day on the Red Planet. Katie Worth, whose Can Earthlings Adapt to the Longer Day on Mars? for Scientific American describes the consequences of sleep-pattern changes, is trying it out herself. Follow her experiences in living on “Mars time” at this blog to see how it affects her sleep and behavior. This post is the fourth in a series.
The past few days have been pretty brutal. As my bedtime has sprinted past dawn, my wake-up time has stood its ground. It’s like the opposite of a curfew. Instead of my carriage turning into a pumpkin after midnight, my eyes are turning into pumpkin-colored unblinking demons of sleeplessness after noon. Not problematic when I was falling asleep at 5 A.M., but now that my bedtime is past 9 A.M., I’m beginning to fret.
The lack of sleep is leading to what I have dubbed “Mars moments.” Like last night, when I took the subway home, and absentmindedly got off one stop too soon. Jumped on the next train but zoned out and missed my stop. Had to get off at the following stop and take the next train back, willing myself to pay attention for 60 whole seconds until I could get off. I mean, I’m kind of a space cadet on a good day, but this is ridiculous.
Despite my near-perpetual drowsiness, most nights I’ve managed to stay awake until my Martian bedtime, with the exception of day 9, when I was so tired that I decided to “take a quick nap” at 4 A.M. and woke up fully dressed and teeth unbrushed eight hours later. One part of my brain felt guilty about cheating on my experiment, but it was drowned out by the raucous cheering of every other neuron in my body.
One of my most effective methods of staying awake through the long nights is to spend time feeding my inner hypochondriac by researching all the ways living on Mars time may be hastening my demise. Here’s the list of terrible things I could be doing to myself this very second:
Giving myself cancer. People who routinely stay up all night working and sleep during the day are considerably more susceptible to cancer than their diurnal counterparts. There have been hundreds of studies correlating night shift work with breast cancer, but a growing pile of evidence indicates that shift work is an equal-opportunity carcinogen, happy to help you grow tumors virtually anywhere in your body.
Accelerating my future case of diabetes. People who do shift work or who suffer problems like sleep apnea or the not-as-fun-as-it-sounds restless leg syndrome develop more Type 2 diabetes than normies. This analysis compared people’s quality and quantity of sleep with the rate they developed diabetes over time. People who slept less than 6 hours a night had 28 percent more relative risk of diabetes—although people sleeping more than 9 hours were even worse off. Those who had trouble staying asleep (inner hypochondriac alert: This means me!) had an 84 percent higher risk of developing the disease than their well-rested counterparts.
Adding wrinkles and gray hairs prematurely. This study found that mice exposed to constant light experienced accelerated aging. Rats living in constant light from the age of 25 days until their natural death met that natural death much sooner than rats kept in darkness 12 or 24 hours a day. The good news: A supplement of melatonin nixed this effect. “Procure melatonin tablets” hereby appended to my to-do list.
Hurrying down the path toward obesity, mental distress, asthma, arthritis, stroke, and coronary heart disease. In an analysis of 375,000 American adults surveyed in 2009, people who reported themselves most sleep-deprived also had the highest incidences of these other problems. Since eating is my primary defense against falling asleep at 6 A.M., I can personally attest to the relationship between drowsiness and obesity.
A bunch of stuff we don’t even know about yet. Last June, the American Medical Association recommended that more research be done on the effect of artificial light at night on human health, and more technologies be developed to reduce those health risks. We are engaging in a “man-made self-experiment” by constantly exposing itself to light at night, and as yet we don’t fully understand the effects of this exposure, the report stated. And that’s just living on Earth time. What about the woman-made self-experiment of living on Mars time?
Stay tuned for my next update on Friday. Assuming I survive that long.
Previously in this series: