Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl?

This re-post from a National Geographic article for today might explain a newly discovered reason WHY you like to rise early or stay up all night long... and it's hopeful that this discovery could lead to assisting with some form of resolution for those with sleep disorders in near future:

Early Birds, Night Owls: Blame Your Genes

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James Owen
for National Geographic News

January 28, 2008

Those who struggle to get out of bed in the morning may be able to hold their genes responsible, new research suggests.

Scientists have discovered that a person's waking habits are mirrored by body cells that are equipped with their own daily alarm clocks.

The work represents the first internal look at the biological clocks of those suffering from sleeping disorders, said study leader Steven A. Brown of the Institute for Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.

"One of the big surprises was that so much of our daily behavior was genetically encoded," Brown said.

"The idea that skin cells are telling us anything about our behavior was, for me, quite fascinating," he added.

The study investigated the circadian rhythm—the brain-controlled phenomenon that governs various body functions over a 24-hour period—of extreme late and early risers.

Larks and Night Owls

Suitable volunteers were recruited by the study team using TV advertisements shown between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m.

"We got both our early types and our late types that way," Brown said. "Some had not yet gone to bed, while others were already up."

Skin cells taken from the volunteers were cultured in the lab and injected with a bioluminescence gene found in fireflies.

These altered cells lit up or dimmed according to an individuals sleeping patterns, according to the study, which appears in today's online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cells belonging to habitual larks glowed for the shortest period, while those of night owls glowed the longest, the study found.

Brown likens the effect seen in late risers to that of someone keeping time with a slow wristwatch. "You end up being late for everything," he said.

"Now imagine your watch was fast, meaning that it had a time period of less than 24 hours. Then you'd be early for everything," Brown added.

"The study reveals that genes, not just environmental factors such as day length, have a major influence on our circadian clock," he said.

(Related news: "Early Risers Have Mutated Gene, Study Says" [March 30, 2005].)

Brain Link

"Human daily body rhythms are a complex, brain-related phenomenon," Brown said, "but it's directed by the same molecules that are present in your skin."

"These cells give an accurate picture of an individual's daily body clock," he said.

"The findings provide the first insight into the molecular workings of the central clock in your brain," he added.

"By looking at slave clocks in the skin, we can get a better understanding of the way the [master] clock in the brain is working."

The research may lead to new treatments for people suffering from sleep disorders, the researchers said.

"Such treatments could potentially be used to reset a patient's 24-hour cycle to more sociable hours, so they wouldn't find themselves awake watching TV in the wee hours."

This would probably be done with drugs that target the circadian clock pathway, Brown said.

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The All Seeing Eye said...

I want to be an Early Bird; however, my new job has me being a Night Owl. It sucks; but, it is a job. I could be a lot worse off...

The_Mrs said...

I hate mornings. Hate them. I often times find myself burning the midnight oil (since that's when I feel at my most alert) and then swearing under my breath when the alarm clock goes off. All I can say is.. thank God for coffee!