Vanessa Elizabeth Ayoung-Chee

External: IST

This school year, some international students who went home to countries having different time zones had to face the question of whether they should stay up late into the day or night to attend live classes, or sleep according to their time zone and watch recorded lectures. There are many factors involved that revolve around the amount of time you have available. However, your productivity is not just affected by the amount of time you have available to you, but also when you are able to make use of that said time. This is determined by your circadian rhythm.

According to the Sleep Foundation, circadian rhythms are 24 hour cycles that control all the chemicals running around your body that help you survive. These 24 hour cycles can affect your mental health, metabolism, immune system, and most importantly your sleep-wake cycle, which directly affects your productivity.

According to John Trougakos, an associate professor of organisational behaviour at the University of Toronto, in a BBC article by Brian Lufkin, 75% of people are most alert between 9 and 11 am. This is assuming that your circadian rhythm is operating as it should. You may be thinking that if you maintain a nocturnal sleep cycle, eventually your body will fall in line. However, the main environmental cue that drives your sleep-wake cycle is light, of which the sun is a major source. Therefore, sleeping during the day and staying awake during the night may not be the most productive use of your time. The reason behind the sun’s effect on your sleep-wake cycle is the production of the hormone, melatonin. Light halts melatonin production, while the absence of light causes it. Melatonin is the hormone that makes you feel sleepy, and ties your sleep-wake cycle to the sun.

After a full day of screen time you may need some assistance with falling asleep. Dimming lights and limiting screen time before bed can serve as an aid in melatonin production. If you are not able to dim the lights you can try using lamps instead of using the main light, or use sunglasses… indoors. If you prefer to defy the sun to watch live lectures, coordinate with group members who are located elsewhere, or for any alternate reason, there are other things you can try. Investing in a sun lamp can increase your exposure to light during the darker hours when you intend to be awake. Getting some black-out curtains to be used during the day when you are sleeping can keep melatonin production going so that your sleep is not interrupted. You can also try melatonin supplements, but you should consult your doctor first.

There are other pros and cons to watching recordings and sleeping according to your time zone vs adjusting your sleep cycle to watch them live. Keeping up with live lectures can prevent you from falling behind in your coursework. Sleeping according to the timezone in which you are located and watching recordings could allow you to spend time with family and friends in your time zone because you are awake when they are. Choosing either can be difficult for coordinating group projects if your team members are in other time zones and have to make this choice as well. Another major contributing factor is whether or not you can stick to your decision.

It is important to understand that there is no right decision. In such unprecedented times you need to take it easy on yourself. This is easier said than done but if no one else will, then at least you should try to do so. Keep in mind that you are not alone, and your lack of productivity may not be your fault. It’s probably just science.

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