Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Oooh...chronobiology!

Today's Health Journal (D1) described one woman's (the author, Melinda Beck) attempt to change from a night owl to a morning glory (or something similar). Given that "[n]ight owls are more creative, more flexible and more caffeinated, studies have found. Morning people are healthier, more conscientious and more emotionally stable. They're not as much fun at parties, but morning people run the world," she desires to become one of those world ruler types. How does she do it?

One's internal clock, or chronotype, is, like almost every other trait, determined partly by genes (genotype) and partly by environmental factors (leading to a phenotype). Since people's circadian cycles run anywhere from 23.5 hours (for morning people) to 24.2 hours (for night owls), each of us has to reset our body clocks a tiny bit each day. (Fie on daylight savings time!) Based on this and related information, several methods have been invented to help people reset their clocks to a ruler-of-the-world (morning person :D) time zone, so to speak.
  • "One method called "chronotherapy" has people move their sleeping and waking times three hours forward every day -- going to bed at 2 a.m., then 5 a.m., then 8 a.m. and so on until they reach a reasonable evening bedtime -- and try to settle there." I recall that being mentioned in USN&WR some time ago in reference to high schoolers.
  • "A quick version has them stay up for an entire night and all the following day and then readjust." Now that would make me cranky!
  • "[Beck is] using a more gradual method that involves adjusting light in the morning and evening." That is, she makes her surrounding lights brighter in the morning and dimmer in the evening - this influences melatonin production, helping the body get sleepy at the "right" times. The technobabble:
    Light is a key player in the body's circadian clock, which is centered in a tiny cluster of neurons behind the optic nerve called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. The SCN receives light signals from the retina, and in turn, sends signals to the pineal gland, which regulates melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy. Darkness triggers the release of melatonin, while light suppresses it.
  • Just be careful to get enough sleep while you're at it. Most people need 8-10 hours but get far less. I'm one of the ones who gets around 7 hours, no matter how hard I try for more. The article links to a quiz to help you determine your night/morning type; take it here.

4 comments:

WomanHonorThyself said...

oh gosh Hannah I need 7 hours or I'm wasted..lol

Aurora said...

That's interesting. I've read the personality characteristics before but it's hard to imagine that changing your sleep hours would change your personality. I guess if you ramped up your caffeine intake as well...

Ed Darrell said...

Did you look at the quiz? (I haven't, yet.) Do you think it's a valid tool for determining whether a person is a night or a morning person?

Hannah J said...

Ed, I did look at the quiz. As far as validity goes, the types of questions it asks seem to correlate to a greater degree with one's chronobiological setting than other quizzes I take for fun (e.g. Blogthings). Try it out.