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 fifth in a series.
It’s mighty hard not to feel immoderate when you sit down with a cocktail at 7:30 A.M., even if it’s technically a nightcap. Likewise, it’s hard to resist the allure of a beer at sunset, even if you haven’t had your morning coffee yet.
I’m on Day 15 of my Martian schedule experiment, in which I make like a NASA engineer and push back my bedtime by 40 minutes each day to replicate the 24.65-hour rotation of the Red Planet. At this point, evenings are my mornings, and mornings are my happy hours.
Among the many conundrums Mars time has presented is how to navigate a booze habit on an ever-changing schedule.
Take last night: It was 9 P.M. and my date was hungry, so he ordered pizza at a sidewalk café. I partook, despite having just eaten two bowls of corn flakes in my pajamas a half-hour earlier (See also: Why living on Mars time is making me obese). At first I sipped an espresso, but chasing down pizza with coffee leaves much to be desired. So when my friend ordered a beer, I cheerfully did the same. An hour and a half later, as he ordered me a third one, I was even more cheerful.
After which I cheerfully went home and cheerfully stared at shiny things on the internet for the next 10 hours. I’d only had a few beers, so I sobered up fast, but as all day drinkers know, it’s hard to redirect your momentum after you’ve begun ushering it down the aisle of lubricated lassitude.
Which brings us to about 15 minutes ago, when I realized I had accomplished nothing and still had a blog to write before bed, at which time I became considerably less cheerful.
Last night was not my first foray into the questionable terrain of day drinking on Mars time. As I mentioned in my inaugural post, one reason I agreed to participate in this absurd experiment was so I could finally be cool enough to shut Santiago’s bars down. A few days ago I took advantage of this benefit, but by the time I got home in a tipsy torpor in the wee hours of the morning, the flaw in my scheme was obvious: I somehow had to stay awake for five more hours until my Martian bedtime.
So I did what anybody would do: I woke up my neighbor and insisted she go for a hike with me. Unbelievably, she obliged. We climbed Cerro San Cristóbal, a sizable hill from which a 50-foot statue of the Virgin Mary gazes magnanimously over Santiago, and sat there watching the city lights blink off as the sun blinked on. By the time we got back home, it was almost bedtime, and I was almost sober.
According to sleep science, sober is probably what we want to be when going to bed, although most insomniacs would beg to differ: In one survey, 67 percent of all insomniacs said they consider getting drunk an effective way of snagging the sandman, although only about 28 percent actually admit to doing so on a routine basis.
Insomniac opinions notwithstanding, it turns out that when it comes to getting a good night’s rest, booze is our "frenemy." Indeed, it helps us fall asleep faster, and the more we drink, the faster we fall, according to a recent review of sleep studies. It also pushes us almost immediately into deep sleep, or slow-wave sleep, the period in which the body repairs its tissues and recharges its immune system.
But meanwhile, our REM sleep suffers—particularly if we’ve imbibed ourselves into oblivion. In addition to helping us explore our oedipal fantasies (if we are to believe Sigmund Freud), REM sleep is crucial if we want to learn and remember things. Studies show that people allowed deep sleep but deprived of REM do far worse remembering a new skill than those who are allowed REM but no deep sleep. When we drink—even a little bit—we delay that REM sleep, and the more we drink, the less total REM sleep we get. And since REM also helps us remember faces , the more we drink, the less likely we are to remember the face of the person we made out with in the bar the night before. That last bit may or may not be a good thing.
Despite (or because of?) my adventures with Mars day drinking, I’m making some progress adjusting to my prescribed schedule: I’m finally able to sleep past noon! Which is good, considering that my bedtime today is at 11:50 A.M. Until recently, I’d been sleeping through the morning but couldn’t seem to break that midday barrier. At last, on Day 12, my eyelids thumped shut at 11 A.M. and didn’t creek open again until 6 P.M. I woke up feeling like a rock star. A well-rested rock star, no less.
I’m clinging to that single victory, because since then, my sleep has been about as deep as the average Taylor Swift song lyric. I’ve been able to fall asleep at my bedtime, but then I wake up approximately every 8 minutes, as though my brain is moonlighting as a broken alarm clock whose snooze button must continually be pushed.
I wish I could blame alcohol for this problem, but I’ve mostly been drinking early in my day and staying away from the nightcaps—er, morningcaps. Now I’m thinking maybe I should experiment with the opposite. So, Santiaguinos, if you feel like a drink at 7:30 A.M., I’m your gal.
Previously in this series: