Olympic fever is about to descend. The 2012 opening ceremonies on Friday will kick off 17 days packed with 3,147 events and 304 gold medals.
The only hitch? The timing. With events starting as early as 4 a.m. Eastern time (that's 1 a.m. Pacific), the 200 million Americans expected to tune in for at least some of the Games could find themselves at risk for serious sleep problems. Those on the East Coast will be setting the alarm for early wake up calls to catch their favorite sports (especially 9 to 5-ers for whom this might be the only time to watch the Olympics), while those on the West Coast will be burning the midnight oil.
"We want to support our Olympians. We want to be there at 5 a.m. watching," says Michael Decker, Ph.D., an associate professor at Georgia State University and spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "But unlike Olympic athletes that are used to getting up at 5 a.m. and working out, we're not."
And the inevitable result will be sleep loss, which can affect daytime performance and, over the long term, our health in very profound ways.
When sleeping, we cycle through five stages, the first of which are called stages one through four, with REM sleep being the fifth and final stage, explains Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., HuffPost blogger and author of "The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan." Each cycle takes about 90 minutes, and the average person should go through about five of them over the course of the night (that adds up to seven and a half hours). But the purpose and significance of each stage changes through the night -- while the physically restorative early stages happen more frequently at the beginning of our sleep process, the mentally restorative REM sleep happens more often in the later cycles.